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.
|Department of Works and Railways||1877-1890|
|West Australian Government Railways (I)||1890-1914|
|West Australian Government Railways and Tramways||1914-1922|
|West Australian Government Railways, Tramways and Electricity Supply||1922-1930|
|West Australian Government Railways, Tramways, Ferries and Electricity Supply||1930-1946|
|West Australian Government Railways, Tramways and Ferries||1946-1949|
|West Australian Government Railways (II) (Westrail)||1949 - 2000|
|West Australian Government Railways Commission||2000 - 2003|
|Public Transport Authority||2003 -|
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.
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:
- WAGR Staff Records Index, 1879-1911, Acc 1752, 1749, 1747, 1750, AN 262
This microfiche index lists railway employees noted in various Western Australian Government Railway Employment Registers for the period 1879-1905.
- Personal Records, 1876-1946, Acc 1746-1754, 2628 & 2629, AN 260/A/2
Personnel records transferred from Accounting and Audit Branch, Westrail, consists of indexes and registers.
- Record of Service Cards, 1900-1980, Series 23, Consignments 3393, 5660, 5661, 5662 & 5663
Record of Service Cards, showing employee's name, date of birth, and employment history.
- Record of Service Cards - Temporary Staff, 1948- , Series 2171, Consignments 5673 & 5674
- Record of Service Cards - Midland Workshops, 1900-1990, Series 1762, Consignment 5268
- Registers - Employment, 1933-1950, Series 491, Consignment 4300
Registers of Employment covering casual and relief employees with the WAGR who worked on railway line construction in the metropolitan and country areas in the State.
- Boiler Shop Staff, 1930-1942, Series 1869, Consignment 5466
A register of boiler shop staff maintained by Midland Workshops. Details include number, name, date joined and date left.
- Ganger's Pay Ledger, June 1896 - April 1897, Series 1497, Consignment 5148
Railway gangers under name of gang (eg Smith's gang, drilling gang). Details include hours worked and pay received by each member of the gang.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- Lands and Surveys Department, Midland Railway Company Records, Series 1210, Consignment 5000, Items 647, 682 & 1393
Collection of registers relating to land sales to the Midland Railway Company.
Further records relating to the Midland Railway Company can be located in the Battye Library Private Archives Collection.
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.
Examples of other record series that document the development of government railways include:
- Gangers Notebooks, 1933-1967, Series 1498, Consignment 5143 - 5145
A representative example of the type of records kept by gangers. Includes gangers day books which detail the number of gangers working on a particular job and the work undertaken.
- Miscellaneous Technical Reports, Series 1910, Consignment 5380
A miscellaneous collection of technical reports relating to automatic signalling systems for railway crossings, railway electrical matters and other railway matters.
- Organisational Charts, 1951, Series 1160, Consignment 598
Organisational charts for the various branches and sections of the railways Department as at 30 June 1951.
- Statistics - Train Performances and Mileage, Series 1906, Consignment 5376
Statistics relating to train performances and mileages.
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, by facsimile on (08) 9427 3368, via email at email@example.com or in person.