HomeSwiss CantonsLucerneThe tragic history of the Luzern train station

The tragic history of the Luzern train station

When arriving in Luzern by train, you quickly notice that the city has a bustling and relatively modern train station. It is a so-called terminal train station, meaning all trains leave and arrive in the train station in one direction. Luzern has a fairly big train station, considering the city only has about 80.000 inhabitants. It thanks its size primarily due to the strategic location, as Luzern is the most centrally located ‘large’ city in Switzerland. On average, 167.000 travellers a day pass through the Luzern train station

Once you have found your way to the exit of the rather dull station, you are greeted by a large majestic archway right in front of the station, welcoming you to Luzern. What a contrast which the Luzern train station you have just exited! While many visitors will simply snap a picture of it and go on with their day, few know the tragic historic of this arch and the train station of Luzern connected to it.

The first Luzern train station

In 1859, Luzern got its very first train station, as part of the railroad route from Basel via Olten and Emmenbrücke to Luzern. The first station was located on virtually the same spot as the current train station, right by the lakeshore of the Vierwaldstättersee. This was a concious choice, connecting the railroads directly to the steam ship network that was already trafficking the lake. The building was humble, made entirely of wood and not all too special.

In the years that followed, the city of Luzern got increasingly more connected with other destinations in Switzerland. This put a strain on the original train station that was small in size, causing several smaller end stations to pop up in the vicnity of the original train station.
In order to ensure that the city had one main train station from where people could travel to destinations all over Switzerland, the construction of a new train station was initiated.

The majestic train station of Luzern

Construction of the new train station, dubbed Centralbahnhof, started in 1892 and the building was completed in 1892. The result was stunning – the train station of Luzern was designed in a distinctive Jugendstil style. The building had a majestic cupola, or dome, topping it all off. The design of the immensely beautiful Antwerp train station was inspired by the Luzern Centralbahnhof. If only we still had a train station like that in Luzern!

Luzern train station
Copyright: Luzern city archives

Looking at the photos of the old Luzern station, it is easy to imagine the pride that the people of Luzern felt for this new major transport hub. In the years that followed, the train station was further expanded to cater the increase in railway traffic that was happening all throughout Switzerland.

Luzern train station
Copyright: SBB Archives

During the almost 80 years that followed, the station became increasingly modernised. The building housed shops, ticket counters, waiting rooms and bistros where visitors could grab a bite before or after their train journey. The location of the station made it easy to transfer between the railway and the steam ships on the Vierwaldstättersee.

That tragic day in 1971

What started as a regular morning in February, ended in tragedy. On the 5th of February 1971, fire broke out in the station. It is believed that routine construction work caused the fire. While the fire started small, it quickly spread through the station interior that was partially constructed from wood.

Passengers where evacuated quickly to avoid any casualties. Around 9 in the morning it became clear that it was unlikely that the station would survive the fire. The last train to ever service the old station arrived at 08.52, and all remaining trains left the station building at 09.00. Not much later, large parts of the station, including the famous cupola, collapsed.

Copyright: SBB historic archives

It wasn’t until hours later that the fire department of Luzern had the fire under control. By then, not much was left of the once so majestic train station. The only thing that withstood the flames was the entry archway of the Luzerner bahnhof.

There are many impressive pictures and videos available of the fire in the old train station. I found the documentary below especially interesting to watch.

After the fire, train traffic to Luzern was restarted already a day later. However, it took 20 years to build a new train station for the city.

The current train station of Luzern

While the old station was loved by residents and visitors, the city chose to go with a modern design for the new station. The new station of Luzern was opened on the 5th of February 1991. Exactly 20 years after the devastating fire, Luzern once again had a permanent train station. This time, the station was designed in a modern way, fit for the 21st century and beyond.

Luzern train station today

In front of the new (and current) train station, you find the impressive archway I mentioned earlier already. It is the entrance of the old bahnhof, and was moved to its current position after the fire. It now stands proud in front of the Luzerner bahnhof, honoring the train station that was lost.

So next time you arrive in Luzern, look at the archway and think of its importance in the history of Luzern! Did you know the history of the Luzern train station already?

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Originally from the Netherlands, I landed in Luzern, Switzerland in March 2022 after 10 years in Sweden. Now, I aim to explore as much of Switzerland as I can, and share it here!

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