Midland Railway Company steam locomotive made in England and
imported to Australia
In 1894, after eight years of construction, a new
railway was completed in Western Australia. It spanned 446 kilometres from
Midland Junction in Perth to Walkaway near Geraldton. Building
of the railway had begun from both ends and the two reached each other
at a solitary point in the bush between Carnamah and Three Springs.
1912 map showing the route of the Midland
Railway, with their land grant shaded in pink and brown
The railway was built by the privately owned Midland
Railway Company which was owned and administered by its shareholders in
London, England. In exchange for building the railway, the WA Government gave the
company 12,000 acres of freehold land for every mile of railway. The
company received a total of over three million acres (1.3 million
hectares). Over the next 60 years the company sold this land as
undeveloped land for farming, townsite lots and
Midland Railway of Western Australia (MRWA) Z-Lock Key
Railway stations were built at towns and a few
other places along the railway. In less populated areas railway
sidings were established and they were often as little as a
platform or shed. Stations had a stationmaster and
sometimes also a night officer or clerk, and at most stations and
sidings there was a ganger who was the man in charge of a team of
fettlers (who worked maintaining the railway line).
Strawberry Lockier Mingenew
Carnamah Railway Station
Trains stopped at the Carnamah Railway Station, which
was established in 1894 and named after the
pastoral station of the Macpherson
family. Before the railway was constructed the Macpherson's transported
everything by horse-drawn wagons and herded their livestock all the way
to Perth. The easier and quicker transportation offered by the railway
made Carnamah a more attractive place for people to settle and establish
farms. It soon led to further settlement
and became the lifeblood of the district. It transported everything
including people, supplies, machinery and the fruits of local farming - wheat and sheep.
Return railway ticket from Carnamah to Yandanooka
The Midland Railway Company sold one way and return
tickets for both first and second class passengers. They also
sold tickets that connected with travelling on Government railways from
Walkaway to Geraldton, and from Midland Junction to Perth and suburbs.
Midland Railway passenger carriage
For many years the quickest way to travel to and from
Carnamah and other places was by train. In 1904 it took just over nine
hours to travel between Carnamah and Midland Junction in Perth.
Working Timetable from 1915
Working timetables were small booklets carried by railway staff.
In addition to providing a schedule of trains, times and prices
they also listed rules and what staff had to do at certain
stops. There were, however, some unofficial tasks that had to be
In 1917 trains couldn’t depart in Three
Springs until the stationmaster went out and got storekeeper
Whitelaw’s cow off the tracks! The cow was sometimes joined by
local agent Tom Berrigan’s pony, as both animals liked
scratching themselves on the trains.
Unfortunately the booklets didn't give much guidance on what to
do in the event of an accident.
Heavy rains in 1917 caused the
ground underneath a section of railway tracks near Gunyidi to wash away.
When a train reached the compromised section part of the railway snapped
behind the engine and pierced through a luggage carriage.
Passenger carriages flew into the air and collided into each other.
"I know I
can't live, go and help the women"
- Richard C. Burges
It was 1:45 in the morning, raining, people were trapped and
injured, surrounded by water, in total darkness and on the most isolated
stretch of the railway. Uninjured passengers fell into the water to try
and help those who were screaming and moaning for help. The body of two
year old Greta Benzie of Geraldton was found floating in the
floodwaters. Her mother Martha Benzie was seriously injured and died two
Midland Railway Disaster in 1917
Among the other twelve who were seriously injured was Richard C. Burges
of Howatharra. He knew he wasn't going to survive so gallantly refused
assistance so others could be treated more quickly. He died within an hour. Passengers gathered wooden bits of wreckage from the carriages and started fires
so they could see to locate trapped passengers and assist the injured. After 13
hours an emergency relief train arrived from Midland Junction.
The injured and stranded were then taken to Moora for medical
attention and food.
Avery Railway Scales
Scales were used to weigh goods to ensure trains weren't
overloaded and to calculate transport charges. Prior to reliable
roads all goods and supplies for shops, businesses, homes and
farms were transported along the railway. This included
livestock, crop fertilisers such as superphosphate and even the
mail to and from each post office
Items that arrived on the train were placed in the goods shed at
the railway station. Before the building of the Carnamah Hall
in 1921 most social functions and dances were held at the goods
One of the essential requirements for the smooth operation of the
railway was water, which the steam engines needed to run. In late
1917 the Company decided to have a windmill erected north of Carnamah. The Perth firm Malloch
Bros was engaged to supply and install the windmill and they sent up
their windmill expert Alexander Smith
Smith, along with a railway fettler Harry Rodwell
, were travelling
from Carnamah to the 174-Mile Post on a railway tricycle when they
turned a bend on the railway and were run down by an unscheduled train. The
tricycle was smashed to pieces and Smith was killed instantly. Rodwell was thrown clear and survived but with serious concussion.
In the 1910s and 1920s people
often arranged for food and other supplies to be sent up from Perth on the train. Their
box of goods would be left at their closest railway station or siding
for them to collect. This system worked well until 1918 when boxes
started disappearing from trains and railway sidings.
The thefts were the work of
a young man named Frank Thomas
who’d left his father’s farm in
Coorow to live the life of a bushranger. He camped in the bush and
stole food and other supplies from trains, railway sidings, farms
and houses. He often threw boxes of goods off moving trains then
returned later on a stolen horse to go through the boxes and take
what he wanted.
“To the womenfolk he
was behind every bush and they felt unable to cope. The men just
swore about what a pest he'd become, and passed on news of his
latest depredations to Dad, the local Justice of the Peace, for
relaying to Dick Honner and to Charlie Kroschel the policemen
based in Three Springs in those days."
- Leo R. Parker of Winchester
Thomas flaunted his skill
to escape and would steal from railway stations and sidings even
when he knew police were watching to catch him! He was caught on a
number of occasions but managed to escape from prison in Geraldton
and from the police lock-up in Buntine. He was caught for the last
time at the railway station in Carnamah in 1922.
Wheat Stack at the Railway Station in
When wheat crops were
harvested the wheat was put into bags. These bags were then sewn up,
carted to the railway station and stacked up awaiting transportation to
Perth or Geraldton. 128,000 bags of wheat were stacked at the railway in
Carnamah in 1927. Similar stacks existed at many sidings and
stations along the Midland Railway until 1936 when they were replaced
Bulk Handling wheat bins.
Loading Ballast near Arrino
At various times the railway has been used for
mining operations. It
transported coal mined near Mingenew, copper and ballast from Arrino, talc from Three Springs and quartzite from near
Moora. A spur line from Dongara has moved mineral sands mined at Eneabba
to the port at Geraldton.
WW2 Defence Pass
During the Second World War the railway
played a role in national defence. It was used to transport soldiers
to military camps at Moora and Mingenew, and also to Geraldton to
defend against Japanese invasion.
Aged steam locomotives were used along the
Midland Railway until 1957 when they were replaced with more
powerful diesel electric locomotives.
For a long time the railway had the monopoly
on quick and efficient transportation. This began to change as roads
were improved and cars and trucks became faster and more reliable.
First Midland Railway Bus
In 1946 the Midland Railway Company began a
bus service between Perth and Geraldton, which they ran alongside
their railway. They also used their buses to conduct wildflower
tours, with Bus No. 10 having a raised back for better viewing.
Over the next 50 years freight and passenger transport services slowly moved off
the tracks and onto the roads.
Midland Railway Road Service
Wildflower Tour Luggage
The Midland Railway remained a privately owned
and operated railway until 1964 when the Midland Railway Company
sold out to the WA Government. After 70 years the railway then
became part of the Western Australian Government Railways (later
known as Westrail).
The first CBH owned train to arrive in Carnamah in 2012
Co-operative Bulk Handling (CBH) now have receival and storage facilities
next to the railway in Carnamah capable
of holding 338,000 tonnes of grain. Farmers deliver grain during harvest
and the railway's sole use through the year is now the moving of grain
to the port in Geraldton. While the railway’s purpose has greatly narrowed it
endures as a vital piece of infrastructure that transports the
district's biggest export. A new era for the railway began in 2012 when
CBH began using their own fleet of railway
locomotives and wagons.
For information on the stations and sidings
along the Midland Railway, plus a collection of old railway tickets,
check out our MRWA Stations
& Sidings page.