Midland Railway of Western Australia D Class 2-8-0 steam locomotive no. D20 at Midland Junction, with the water tower at left. Photo: J. Stanbridge, Rail Heritage WA, Archive Photo Gallery image P6281, Wikimedia Commons.

Perth tram No. 38, showing Hay Street East destination board, with driving/conducting staff, between 1905 and 1910. Photo: State Library of Western Australia, Wikimedia Commons.

Major Events in Western Australian Railway and Tramway History

David Matheson

2 June 2019

23 December 1871

Ballaarat Tramline, the first railway in Western Australia, officially opened. It was a 12 mile (19 km) private line operated by the Western Australian Timber Company between Lockville, near Busselton, and Yoganup.

26 July 1879

First government-owned railway in Western Australia opened between Geraldton and Northampton.

1 March 1881

Railway opened between Guildford, Perth and Fremantle, the first railway in Perth.

1 June 1889

Railway opened to Albany, completing the line from Perth.

9 April 1891

Railway opened between Midland Junction, near Perth, and Gin Gin, operated by the Midland Railway Company. By the end of 1894 the Midland Railway Company’s line was completed between Midland Junction and Walkaway, a distance of 277 miles (445.8 km). Walkaway is around 19 miles (30.6 km) from Geraldton. The Midland Railway was the longest private railway in Australia until it was taken over by the Western Australian state government in 1964.

8 September 1893

Railway opened between Pinjarra and Picton, completing the line between Perth and Bunbury.

1 January 1897

Railway opened to Kalgoorlie, completing the line from Perth.

28 September 1899

First electric tram commenced running in Perth. The line ran along Hay Street between East Perth and West Perth.

29 November 1902

First E Class 4-6-2 locomotive entered service. A total of 65 members of the class entered service, making them Western Australia’s most numerous class of steam locomotive. Most were later rebuilt with superheated boilers and reclassified as the Es Class.

16 November 1917

Trans-Australian Railway opened between Port Augusta and Kalgoorlie, completing the east-west transcontinental railway across Australia. Construction of the railway proceeded simultaneously from Port Augusta and Kalgoorlie, and the two lines met near Ooldea on 17 October 1917. The first east–west train departed Port Augusta on 22 October and was hauled by 11 different G Class locomotives before its arrival at Kalgoorlie on 24 October. An official opening ceremony took place in Perth on 16 November and the line was officially declared open by the Governor-General, Sir Ronald Munro-Ferguson.

5 July 1920

Train carrying Prince Edward, Prince of Wales and future King Edward III of England, derailed near Jarnadup, between Pemberton and Bridgetown. The Prince’s carriage toppled over, but he was uninjured.

6 November 1920

Worst railway accident in Western Australia killed nine people after a train ran out of control on a steep gradient near Wokalup, near Bunbury.

January 1938

First C Class 4-6-0 locomotive entered service with Commonwealth Railways. A total of eight C Class locomotives entered service in 1938. They were similar to the C36 Class locomotives in New South Wales, but had larger tenders for service on the arid Trans-Australian Railway between Port Augusta and Kalgoorlie.

11 February 1943

First S Class 4-8-2 locomotive, the most powerful locomotive in Western Australia at the time, entered service. A total of ten S Class locomotives entered service and all remained operational until the 1970s.

September 1943

First Australian Standard Garratt 4-8-2+2-8-4 locomotive entered service. These locomotives were ordered by the Commonwealth Land Transport Board, which had been established to take responsibility for Australia’s land transport during the Second World War.

27 April 1951

First W Class 4-8-2 locomotive entered service. A total of 60 members of the W Class entered service and all remained operational until the 1970s. Fifteen W Class locomotives have been preserved.

6 October 1951

First GM Class diesel-electric locomotive, GM1, the first Clyde Engineering-General Motors built diesel locomotive, entered service with Commonwealth Railways. Clyde Engineering had previously built steam locomotives, but switched to diesels when it secured a licence to manufacture GM diesel-electric locomotives.

8 March 1954

First X Class diesel-electric locomotive, X1001, the first Western Australian Government Railways mainline diesel, entered service. The 2-Do-2 wheel arrangement of the X Class and the Xa Class was unusual, and these were the only locomotives in Australia with this arrangement.

16 November 1956

V Class locomotive No. 1224 became the last steam locomotive to enter service with Western Australian Government Railways.

19 July 1958

Perth tramway system closed. The Inglewood line was the last to close, with E Class tram 66 making the final run.

1 August 1964           

Midland Railway Company and its line between Midland and Walkaway, Australia’s longest private railway, purchased by Western Australian Government Railways.

6 September 1965

First Alco C628 model locomotive arrived in Australia for service with Hamersley Iron in the Pilbara region of Western Australia. Weighing 173 tons (175.7 tonnes), it was the heaviest diesel locomotive in Australia at the time and the most powerful diesel locomotive exported anywhere in the world, with an engine output of 2750 horsepower (2751 kW).

28 June 1966

Goldsworthy railway line, the first iron ore railway in the Pilbara region, opened between Goldsworthy and Finucane Island. The Goldsworthy railway is now part of the BHP network.

1 July 1966

Hamersley railway line opened between Tom Price and Dampier in the Pilbara region of Western Australia. The Hamersley railway is now part of the Rio Tinto network.

27 October 1967

First Western Australian Government Railways L Class diesel-electric locomotive, then the most powerful diesel-electric locomotives in government service in Australia, entered service.

4 November 1968

Standard gauge railway opened to Kalgoorlie, completing the standardisation of the line from Perth. From this date freight trains commenced running between Port Pirie and Perth. The standard gauge line to East Perth Terminal for passenger trains opened in June 1969.

22 January 1969

Mount Newman iron ore railway opened between Port Hedland and Newman, a distance of 264.7 miles (426.0 km). The Mount Newman railway is now part of the BHP network.

23 February 1970

Inauguration of the Indian Pacific passenger train between Sydney and Perth.

29 November 1971

The Prospector, the fastest train in Australia at the time, commenced regular service between Perth and Kalgoorlie. The original Prospector railcars had a maximum speed of 90 miles per hour (144.8 km/h).

24 December 1971

Last regular steam-hauled mainline train operated in Western Australia. The train ran from Picton to Collie. Some steam shunting operations continued in Western Australia until March 1972.

16 September 1991

Launch of electric train services in Western Australia. Regular electric passenger train services commenced between Perth and Armadale on 7 October.

20 December 1992

Railway opened between Perth and Joondalup.

9 May 1999

The AC6000CW model, Australia’s most powerful locomotive, entered service with BHP Iron Ore. A total of eight of these 4500 kW (6000 horse power) diesel-electric units operated on the Mount Newman and Goldsworthy lines in the Pilbara region of Western Australia. The SD90MAC-H Phase II units currently owned by Fortescue Metals Group also have an engine output of 4500 kW.

23 December 2007

Railway opened from Perth to Mandurah. Construction of the Mandurah line was part of the New MetroRail project, which also included extension of the railway from Currambine to Clarkson (since extended further to Butler), which opened in 2004, and the new branch line from Cannington to Thornlie, opened in 2005.

5 April 2008

Fortescue Railway from Cloudbreak mine to Port Hedland opened, becoming the heaviest haul railway in the world.

10 December 2015

First shipment of iron ore hauled on the newly opened Roy Hill railway line in Western Australia’s Pilbara region. The 344 km railway was built to the highest modern standards and is Australia’s newest freight railway.

E Class steam locomotive hauling the first train of bulk wheat in Western Australia, 1931. Rail Heritage WA, Archive Photo Gallery image P7118, Wikimedia Commons.

A three quarter view of the class leader of the WAGR X class, no. X1001 Yalagonga, with a Westland nameplate on its front, March 1954. Photo: State Library of Western Australia, call number 102621PD, Wikimedia Commons.