The first Roma Street railway station was constructed in 1873-1875 as the first Brisbane terminus for the Main Line railway and was the Brisbane terminus for the Southern and Western railway lines via Toowoomba. The building was designed by FDG Stanley, the Superintendent of Public Buildings in 1873 and built over the next two years by Brisbane builder, John Petrie.
The Queensland Parliament passed the Railway Act in 1863, enabling the first railways to be constructed. A railway survey had been undertaken by the New South Wales Government in 1856 prior to the separation of Queensland in 1859, but it was the Moreton Bay Tramway Company who, on constructing a wooden-railed horse hauled tramway between Ipswich and Toowoomba in 1861, pioneered rail transportation to Queensland. Queensland's sparse population discouraged rail transportation as non-viable.
The initial Main Line railway which ran between Ipswich and a small town near Ipswich, Bigge's Camp (or Grandchester as it is now known) was opened in 1865. This was the first stage of a four stage project to provide railway connections into the major towns on the Darling Downs. The second stage was to link Ipswich through to Toowoomba via the Main Line in 1867. The final two stages were the Western railway line linking Toowoomba to Dalby in 1868 and the Southern railway line linking Toowoomba to Warwick in 1871.
Terminating the railway at Ipswich meant that goods were then be transferred to ships at Ipswich to reach Brisbane or beyond. The Ipswich community was opposed to the extension of the railway to Brisbane, as goods would then be transferred to ships in Brisbane, diminishing Ipswich's role as a port. Despite Ipswich's opposition, the Queensland Government ordered a preliminary survey of a railway line between Ipswich and Brisbane which was completed in November 1865.
By 1872 a report of the Royal Commission on Railway Construction was presented to Parliament which made a case for the extension of the South-West Railway into Brisbane. The case for the railway line was adopted and plans were immediately made for a survey which estimated the cost of the rail link to be £192,000, or £8,000 per mile of line. Previously a decision was made to adopt a narrow gauge of 3'6", rather than the wider gauge adopted in other states and this reflects the general attitude toward the construction of railway lines and stations in Queensland in these first years, that of providing adequate facilities economically. On 30 January 1873, the first sod was turned on the extension of the line to Brisbane by the Queensland Governor, George Phipps, 2nd Marquess of Normanby.