Western Australian Government Railways

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Western Australian Government Railways
Bassendean rail museum gnangarra 09.jpg
WAGR logo on old rolling stock at the Western Australian Rail Transport Museum
Agency overview
Formed 1 October 1890
  • Department of Works & Railways
Dissolved 30 June 2003
Superseding agency
Jurisdiction Western Australia
Headquarters Public Transport Centre
Key document

Western Australian Government Railways (WAGR) was the operator of railway services in the state of Western Australia between October 1890 and June 2003. Owned by the State Government, it was renamed a number of times to reflect extra responsibility for tram and ferry operations that it assumed and later relinquished. Its freight operations were privatised in December 2000 with the remaining passenger operations transferred to the Public Transport Authority in July 2003.

History of operations[edit]

Preserved S542 at the Public Transport Centre in April 2006
Preserved C1702 at the Hotham Valley Railway in September 2011 in the original diesel livery
J104 at Forrestfield in March 1986 in Westrail livery
The Prospector crossing the Swan River at Guildford in April 1986

The first WAGR line opened on 26 July 1879 between Geraldton and Northampton. it was followed by the Eastern Railway from Fremantle to Guildford via Perth on 1 March 1881.[1][2] The WAGR adopted the narrow gauge of 3 ft 6 in (1,067 mm) in order to reduce construction costs.

Over the next few decades, an extensive network of main lines and branches throughout Western Australia would be built, primarily to service the wheatbelt.[3] Prior to the expanded use of road transport, the network was of vital importance in the state, particularly for the moving of agricultural, forestry and mining products.

The WAGR network was joined to that of the rest of mainland Australia, albeit to 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge, a different gauge, in October 1917 with the opening of the Commonwealth Railways' Trans-Australian Railway to Kalgoorlie.

Legislative restrictions were implemented to limit competition from road transport, most notably from the 1930s through to the 1950s, when the Transport Co-ordination Board kept strict control over commercial road traffic through powers vested by the State Transport Co-ordination Act 1933.[4] As road transportation expanded and losses escalated, many lines closed from 1949.[3]

The network peaked in 1937 at 6,600 kilometres. Unusually for such a large network, only one tunnel was required, the Swan View Tunnel.[5] A few isolated lines were operated, such as the Marble Bar line in the Pilbara and the Hopetoun-Ravensthorpe line on the South Coast. With many lines in need of heavy maintenance, rolling stock in need of replacement and heavy losses being incurred, during the 1950s many branches closed with 1,320 kilometres of the network so treated in 1956/57, although 275 kilometres were subsequently reopened on a seasonal basis.[1][2][3]

In the late 1960s, the Eastern and Eastern Goldfields lines between Perth and Kalgoorlie was gauge converted to allow through operation of trains from the eastern states along with the Esperance & Menzies lines, with sections through the Avon River and east of Southern Cross built on new alignments. A concerted program of dieselisation saw diesel locomotives replace the last steam locomotives in March 1972.[3]

In the late 20th century, the end of restrictions on competing road transport resulted in the WAGR and its successors moving from being a small customer-oriented system to a predominantly main line bulk carrier operation. This resulted in many smaller communities losing their facilities. However, in the wheatbelt, bulk handling of grain continued despite the changes.


The WAGR was renamed a number of times to reflect extra responsibility for tram and ferry operations that it assumed and later relinquished.

  • 1 January 1880 – 30 September 1890: Department of Works & Railways[6]
  • 1 October 1890 – 30 June 1914: Western Australian Government Railways (I)[7]
  • 1 July 1914 – 30 June 1922: Western Australian Government Railways & Tramways[8]
  • 1 July 1922 – 30 June 1930: Western Australian Government Railways, Tramways & Electricity Supply[9]
  • 1 July 1930 – 30 June 1946: Western Australian Government Railways, Tramways, Ferries & Electricity Supply[10]
  • 1 July 1946 – 21 April 1949: Western Australian Government Railways, Tramways & Ferries[11]
  • 22 April 1949 – 16 December 2000: Western Australian Government Railways (II)[12]
  • 19 September 1975: WAGR adopted the trading name Westrail[13]
  • 17 December 2000: The freight business, Westrail name and a 49-year lease on the network outside of Perth were sold to the Australian Railroad Group.[14] The public entity that continued to operate passenger services was renamed the Western Australian Government Railways Commission (WAGRC).[15][16]
  • 1 July 2003: WAGRC succeeded by Public Transport Authority that today operates services under the Transperth and Transwa brands[17][18]


The WAGR purchased the Great Southern Railway in December 1896 and the Midland Railway of Western Australia in August 1964.[19]


The WAGR operated a wide variety of services throughout its history, including the more standard country and suburban passenger and freight workings as well as a limited electrified service, early country railcar services, road bus services and overnight sleeper services to distant destinations.

Named services[edit]

U657 hauling The Australind in 1950

Although some passenger trains were bestowed nicknames, it wasn't until The Westland was launched in 1938, that a service was officially named. Further trains were named in the 1960s in an effort to increase the prestige of rail travel.[2]

Name Origin Destination Commenced Ceased
Albany Progress Perth Albany 1961 1978
Albany Weekender Perth Albany 1964 1975
The Australind Perth Bunbury 1947 present
Bunbury Belle Perth Bunbury 1964 1975
The Shopper Perth Bunbury 1964 1975
The Midlander Perth Geraldton 1964 1975
The Westland Perth Kalgoorlie 1938 1969
The Kalgoorlie Perth Kalgoorlie 1962 1971
The Prospector East Perth Kalgoorlie 1971 present
The Mullewa Perth Mullewa 1961 1974

Unnamed services[edit]

The WAGR operated services from Perth to many destinations throughout the state. In 1935, it operated 63 sleeper services a week. It also operated local passenger, many operating as mixed trains. The last of these ceased in 1973.[2]

Electrified services[edit]

While the current Perth urban passenger network operated by Transperth is entirely electrified, between May 1924 and March 1969 the State Electricity Commission operated the only electrified line in Western Australia as part of the WAGR network. The line was 800 metres in length and operated within the confines of the East Perth Power Station.[20] The electric locomotive used on the railway is preserved at the Western Australian Rail Transport Museum in Bassendean, though is currently not on display.[21]

Country diesel railcar services[edit]

Governor class railcars at Midland Junction in 1939
Road coaches outside Bunbury station

In December 1937, the Governor class diesel railcars were introduced on daylight regional services from Perth.[2] The longer distance services remained locomotive hauled.[22]

Road bus service[edit]

Where lines were closed in the 1940s and 1950s, or passenger services discontinued, road bus services were introduced. Most of the services and the same routes continue to the present.

The rail-road services commenced on 24 November 1941 with one vehicle operating a service from Perth to Kojonup via Boddington.[18][23] By 1949, there were 28 buses.[24] and by 1959, more than fifty.[3] Dual-purpose buses that also carried freight were introduced in 1949. Buses operated included Fodens, articulated trailer buses, AECs, Leyland Lions, Hino RC320Ps and Mercedes-Benz O303s.[25]

In the late 1960s, long distance coaches operated from Perth to Meekatharra, Esperance, Geraldton and Albany.[26]

In the early 1970s the WAGR Bus service included seasonal six-day Wildflower Study Tours from Perth and along roads to and from Geraldton through the northern wheatbelt.[27] These had first been operated in 1948 by the Midland Railway of Western Australia. Also in the early 1970s, the King Karri Scenicruiser buses ran from Bunbury through Manjimup, Pemberton, Northcliffe and Walpole to Albany at the same time the Albany Progress overnight train was still operating, making it possible to do a round trip by rail from Perth to Albany and bus from Albany to Perth via Bunbury.[28]

In the mid-1970s some services reflected where rail services had either closed or had ceased providing facilities for passengers, the following selection is the not the total service at the time.[29]

Railway road truck services[edit]

There were also road-freight services, while the restrictions on non-government trucking were still in force, with suburban truck services from Perth to Midland, Fremantle, Kewdale and Gosnells. The country services were extensive having Perth and country rail stations as terminal locations.[30]


Westrail liveried AA1517 with carriages in WAGR larch green and cream livery near Kelmscott in December 1986

Until 1951, most steam locomotives were painted black. From that date, locomotives used on passenger services were painted green. The early diesel locomotives were painted green, with a red stripe later added. In the late 1960s, a grey and light blue livery was introduced.[1] The latter was resurrected by South Spur Rail Services in the early 2000s.[31]

Carriages were painted Indian red, before a larch green and cream livery was introduced in October 1951. When launched in 1964, The Midlander stock was painted in a maroon and ivory livery.[2] When the Westrail brand was introduced in 1975, an orange and blue livery was introduced for locomotives. In the late 1990s, this was superseded by a yellow and blue livery.

Rolling stock[edit]

The WAGR operated a large number of unique steam, diesel and electric locomotive classes. Most of the steam locomotives were built in the United Kingdom, with the WAGR's Midland Railway Workshops building some from 1915. The early diesels were mainly built by Beyer, Peacock and Company in England, Clyde Engineering in Sydney, and English Electric in Brisbane. Later diesels were assembled in Perth.

The WAGR built much of its carriage and wagon stock at the Midland Railway Workshops. From the late 1930s, the WAGR operated diesel railcars such as the Governor and Wildflower classes.

Chief Mechanical Engineer[edit]

Chief Mechanical Engineer was the highest posting at the Midland Railway Workshops, which in turn managed (through construction, repair and design) all aspects of railway maintenance and equipment. The post was established in 1900 and abandoned in 1989.[32]

Lines and operational centres[edit]

See Western Australian Government Railway lines and operations centres

Legacy and preservation[edit]

A number of former WAGR locomotives and rolling stock types, as well as many examples of WAGR architecture and railway infrastructure have been preserved, with the Hotham Valley Railway and Rail Heritage WA holding extensive collections.[33][34] Some items are preserved interstate, notably by the Pichi Richi Railway.[35] With the deregulation of the Australian rail market in the 1990s, former WAGR rolling stock has operated in other states, with L class locomotives having operated in the eastern states for ATN Access, Aurizon and Pacific National.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Gunzburg, Adrian (1984). A History of WAGR Steam Locomotives. Perth: Australian Railway Historical Society. pp. 13, 115, 142. ISBN 0 9599690 3 9. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f Higham, Geoffrey (2007). Marble Bar to Mandurah: A history of passenger rail services in Western Australia. Bassendean: Rail Heritage WA. pp. 10, 35, 44, 46, 57, 58, 111, 118, 119. ISBN 978 0 9803922 0 3. 
  3. ^ a b c d e Affleck, Fred (1978). On Track: The making of Westrail 1950 - 1976. Perth: Western Australian Railways Commission. pp. 8, 9, 37, 144. ISBN 0 7244 7560 5. 
  4. ^ State Transport Co-ordination Act 1933 Government of Western Australia
  5. ^ Bayley, William (1974). Tunnels on Australian Railways. Bulli: Austrail Publications. pp. 37–38. ISBN 0 909597 16 2. 
  6. ^ Department of Works & Railways State Records Office of Western Australia
  7. ^ Western Australian Government Railways State Records Office of Western Australia
  8. ^ Western Australian Government Railways & Tramways State Records Office of Western Australia
  9. ^ Western Australian Government Railways, Tramways & Electricity Supply State Records Office of Western Australia
  10. ^ Western Australian Government Railways, Tramways, Ferries & Electricity Supply State Records Office of Western Australia
  11. ^ Western Australian Government Railways, Tramways & Ferries State Records Office of Western Australia
  12. ^ Western Australian Government Railways State Records Office of Western Australia
  13. ^ Our History 1951 to 1975 Public Transport Authority
  14. ^ Our History Brookfield Rail
  15. ^ Western Australian Government Railways Commission State Records Office of Western Australia
  16. ^ Annual Report for year ended 30 June 2001 Western Australian Government Railways Commission
  17. ^ Public Transport Authority State Records Office of Western Australia
  18. ^ a b Annual Report for year ended 30 June 2003 Western Australian Government Railways Commission
  19. ^ Gunzburg, Adrian (1989). The Midland Railway Company Locomotives of Western Australia. Surrey Hills: Light Railway Research Society of Australia. p. 7. ISBN 0 9093402 77. 
  20. ^ Don Finlayson (Ed.) (1986), "Steam Around Perth", Australian Railway Historical Society W.A. Division (Inc), Lamb Print, West Perth., ISBN 0-9599690-4-7 p14
  21. ^ State Electricity Commission Electric Locomotive Rail Heritage WA
  22. ^ Gray, Bill; May, Andrew (2006). A History of WAGR Passenger Carriages. Perth: Bill Gray. pp. 171–177. ISBN 0-646-45902-3. 
  23. ^ Royal Commission into the Management, Workings & Control of the Western Australian Government Railways Government of Western Australia December 1947 page 92
  24. ^ WAGR buses shift 360,000 in a year The Sunday Times 28 August 1949 page 3
  25. ^ Fleet Summary Perth Bus Info
  26. ^ WAGR Timetable booklet 1969, p.81
  27. ^ Rail and Road in Western Australia 1971–1972 p.27
  28. ^ Rail and Road in Western Australia, edition 1971–1972, p.38 - timetable on p.39
  29. ^ WAGR 1976 Rail Timetable booklet
  30. ^ WAGR Timetable booklet 1969, p.59 - with at least 19 separate services at that date
  31. ^ Media South Spur Rail Services
  32. ^ Bertola, P.; Oliver, B. [Eds.] (2006). The Workshops: A History of the Midland Government Railway Workshops. Perth: University of Western Australia Press. 
  33. ^ Equipment / Trains Hotham Valley Railway
  34. ^ Bassendean Museum Exhibits Rail Heritage WA
  35. ^ Western Australian Government Railways W class locomotives Pichi Richi Railway


  • WAGR Publicity Section, Perth. Pamphlets and information sheets produced in the early 1960s.

External links[edit]