Railway Records

Western Australia's first railway, built in 1871 was a privately owned timber line in Lockville, a few kilometres north of Busselton. Construction of the first Government railway in the State, linking Geraldton to Northampton (a distance of 53 km) did not begin until 1874, and was not officially opened for traffic until July 26, 1879.

Prior to 1877 government regulation of railways was administered by the Colonial Secretary's Office (CSO) (reference to the Lockville line may be found in the CSO's records). In that year, a Director of Public Works was appointed and in the following year he was also given the title of Commissioner of Railways - paving the way for the establishment of the Department of Works and Railways.

In 1890 the Department of Works and Railways was separated into the Department of Works and Buildings and the Western Australian Government Railways (WAGR). Although the Western Australian Government Railways was to undergo further departmental changes throughout the 20th Century, the provision of a government railway system continued to form the backbone of this organisation.

Perth Electric Tramways Ltd. commenced operations in 1899 and trams ran along Hay Street from East Perth to Milligan Street. Tram services were later extended to a number of suburbs in the Perth metropolitan area before ceasing in 1958.

In recent years, the government railway system has undergone major administrative and functional change. The railway freight business was sold to the Australian Railway Group in 2000 along with the Westrail name and logo. In 2003, the Public Transport Authority was formed to replace the Western Australian Government Railways Commission and to also incorporate Transperth, School Bus Services and local regional bus services.

The State Records Office holds a great deal of material relating to government railways. Government railways records held by the SRO are organised according to the agency responsible for generating them.

The various incarnations of the WAGR are displayed in the table below. Records are held by the State Records Office for each period of the agencies development. To locate records for a particular period it is necessary to take note of the relevant agency number provided below.


Incarnations of WA Government Railways
Department of Works and Railways1877-1890
West Australian Government Railways (I)1890-1914
West Australian Government Railways and Tramways1914-1922
West Australian Government Railways, Tramways and Electricity Supply1922-1930
West Australian Government Railways, Tramways, Ferries and Electricity Supply1930-1946
West Australian Government Railways, Tramways and Ferries1946-1949
West Australian Government Railways (II) (Westrail)1949 - 2000
West Australian Government Railways Commission2000 - 2003
Public Transport Authority2003 -

Reference to railways related topics prior to 1877 may be found in the Colonial Secretary's Office records. See also further information on how to access CSO material.

A brief outline of the types of railways records held by the State Records Office has been provided below.

Staff Records

During the early years of the 20th Century the WAGR played a major role in the development of Western Australia. Opening up outlying regions of the State required the laying of railway lines throughout the State - a very labour intensive process that required the employment of a large workforce.

The records of those employed by the WAGR throughout the last century have for the most part been transferred to the State records Office. These records are frequently used by family history researchers and can be a source of vital information as they often provide detailed work histories of employees.

Example of the types of staff records contained within the State records Office's extensive collection of WAGR material include:

General Correspondence and Subject Files

The State Records Office has received numerous consignments of correspondence and subject files created by Westrail (and its predecessor agencies) over the years. Many of the collections of subject files have been grouped into specific projects or topics (such as civil engineering, land resumption, signalling and communication).

Collections of general correspondence and subject files can be located by searching the online catalogue or  through the hardcopy AN 260 finding aids located in the State Records Office Search Room. Staff at the Search Room Enquiry Desk are happy to assist clients in using the finding aids.

Railway Passes

These registers provide listings of the names and details of patrons issued with railway passes. The registers were created and maintained by the relevant Courthouses and are not WAGR records.

  • Collie Courthouse, Labour Bureau Register of Railway Passes, 1924-1942, Acc 1366, Item 59
    Provides name, marital status, occupation, age and intended destination.
  • Narrogin Courthouse, Register of Railway Passes, 1909-1940, Acc 1103, Item 8.
    Provides date, name, by whom employed and intended destination.

Diagram of Railway System, Western Australian Government Railways, Acc 1649, IteRailway Plans

The State Records Office holds a substantial collection of WAGR plans spanning the last century and providing detailed information on the expansion of the rail network throughout Western Australia during this period.

Access to WA railway plans is available through the online catalogue. The State records Office also retains card indexes to railway plans available for use in the State Records Office Search Room.

  • WA Railway Plans Index
    This partial index to WAGR plans covers the period 1890-1998. The index is arranged alphabetically by railroad (eg. Armadale-Brookton line) with each card recording the title of the plan, the type of plan, the plan number, date and associated file number. The index contains references to various WAGR Chief Civil Engineer (CCE) plans, including Progress Plans and Standard Plans. Progress Plans of WAGR stations and sidings show track layout, buildings, work and alterations undertaken. Some plans show lots, streets and buildings surrounding stations, permanent way stations, station yard details and land resumption information.
  • WA Public Works Department Plans Index
    An alphabetical card index containing references to all Public Works Department plans held by the State Records Office. Railways related plans contained in this series include resumption and railway construction plans loosely covering the period 1880 to 1962

Plans described in these two indexes are drawn from a number of different consignments. For assistance in identifying the consignment number required to request a particular item please ask Enquiry Desk staff.

Locomotives and Carriages

One of the most popular collections of WAGR material held by the State Records Office is a series of detailed blueprints (Consignment 6300) of the locomotives and carriages used by the WAGR. A complete listing of the diagrams available (detailing carriage/locomotive class) can be obtained upon request from the Search Room Enquiry Desk. A small proportion of plans, mostly for steam engines, has been microfilmed, and copies are available in the SRO microfilm area.

Please Note: As the diagrams are stored offsite same-day retrieval of requested items will not be possible. Due to the fragile condition of these diagrams, copying is strictly limited.

Detailed information on the maintenance and technical aspects of locomotives and carriages can also be obtained from the general correspondence and subject files of the Mechanical Branch (Acc 2861, 2862 & 3273, AN 260).

Royal Commissions Into Railways

Efficient management of the WAGR seems to have been a key consideration for Government throughout the last century. This has been reflected in the number of Royal Commissions established throughout the last century to inquire into and report on the management and administration of government railways. The State Records Office holds many of the original records relating to these Royal Commissions including:

  • Royal Commission Into the System of State Railways, 1922, Acc 3077 & 3078, AN 537
    The first Royal Commission to be established solely for the purpose of investigating the operation and management of the State's railways. Includes transcripts of evidence, final report of the Royal Commission, and the comments of the Royal Commissioner.
  • Royal Commission Into the Administration of Government Railways, 1957-59, Acc 2700-2711, 3022, AN 537, Agency 658
    Includes correspondence, exhibits, reports and transcripts of evidence.
  • Royal Commission Into the Management, Workings and Control of Railways in WA, 1947-48, Cons 1427 & 5066, Agency 659
    This was an investigation into the operations of the Midland Workshops by the Commissioner of Railways and the Western Australian Locomotive Engine Drivers, Firemen and Cleaners Union, 1947-1948.

For full listings of records held by the State Records Office relating to Royal Commissions into railways refer to the hardcopy AN 537 finding aid and the online catalogue.

Please Note: There is a 30 year access restriction on Royal Commission records. See also further information on accessing restricted records.

Land Resumption

Records relating to the resumption of land for use by the WAGR are also held by the State Records Office. Some examples of these records include:

  • Land Acquisition Registers, 1911-1925, Acc 1744, AN 260
    Volumes detailing resumption and acquisition of land for railway reserves. Includes a nominal index to landowners.
  • Files - Land Resumption, 1911-1978, Series 1200, Consignments 4817, 4800 & 5627
    Files dealing with land resumptions for railway purposes such as bridges, marshalling yards and railway lines. Names of persons from whom land was obtained and lot numbers are often given.

Commercial Railways

Although the majority of railway material contained within the State Records Office is related to Western Australian government railways, there are some records relating to the various private or commercial railways that have operated within the State.

Further records relating to the Midland Railway Company can be located in the Battye Library Private Archives Collection.

Boulder City Trams, c. 1900. [7777B] Photographs

In the past the Battye Library Pictorial Collection, on behalf of the State Records Office, has taken custody of collections of photographs created by the WAGR. These collections include images of locomotives, rolling stock, stations, yards, workshops, personnel, events and projects.

The WAGR photographic collection can be located in the Battye Library Pictorial Collection at reference number BA 369.

Other Records

Examples of other record series that document the development of government railways include:

Further Information

State Records Office staff at the Enquiry Desk can provide additional information on the range of railways related records available from within the State Records Office collection. For more information contact us by telephone on (08) 9427 3600, via email at sro@sro.wa.gov.au or in person.