The railway terminus you see today was inaugurated in 1991 and is the latest of three in what has been an eventful history. The first mainline terminus was constructed in timber by the Swiss Central Railway Company and completed in 1856. The line led to Lucerne from France and Germany via Basel and Olten in Switzerland. Passengers approached the station via what is today Pilatusstrasse. Designed as a terminus, it occupied a lakeside location next to the landing stages of the Lake Lucerne Navigation Company.
Lucerne’s brand-new second station was erected in 1896 and consisted of a building topped by an impressive-looking glass dome. At the same time, the track routing and approach roads were modified and extended. The new station was turned 90° on its axis compared to its predecessor, such that the tracks no longer crossed the roads but ran along embankments and through cuttings.
Unfortunately, Lucerne’s 1896 station fell victim to a fire on 5 February 1971. All that withstood the blaze was the iron structure of the concourse. Thus it was that the building’s landmark, the striking 19th century glass dome, collapsed and disappeared from the town’s skyline. The conflagration was said to have been started by a blowtorch during work being done to the roof. Only a hastily erected makeshift station allowed trains to continue running.
It was decided not to simply rebuild the station, but to aim for a comprehensive redevelopment of the whole area. In 1980, the Swiss Federal Railways and the country’s postal, telegraph and telephone service (PTT) joined forces with the town and Canton Lucerne to launch an architectural competition for the reconceptualisation of the station area. The winning design was that of architects Hans-Peter Ammann and Peter Baumann. The design of the bold, spacious concourse featuring glass and concrete fell to the renowned Spanish/Swiss architect, civil engineer and artist Santiago Calatrava, who was working for Ammann and Baumann at the time.
Lucerne's new terminus station was officially inaugurated in 1991. The historic entrance portal, which was re-erected facing the lake, honours the legacy 1896 building and its 42-metre-high dome. The portal is crowned by a sculpture named «Zeitgeist» by the most famous Swiss sculptor of the day, Richard Kissling.
The west facade of the station features a monumental painting titled North and South by Maurice Barraud, which adorned the inside of the dome until the latter's destruction.