For over a century, the town centre of Ōhinehou Lyttelton revolved not solely around London St but extended down along Oxford St to the port quays and their public transport hub at the Lyttelton Railway Station. In days gone by, turning right into Oxford St from London, one would have passed by HP Hobson's, later Collett’s Chemist, with the Borough Council offices and the old Library and Fire Station across the street, and the war memorial in the centre of the intersection. Walking down the steep footpath past Norton's Tea Rooms and Dance Hall, followed by the Tin Palace, one would have come to the busy intersection of Oxford St and Norwich Quay. Here, one would find the British and Canterbury hotels opposite the fine Harbour Board and the Post and Telegraph Office with its clock tower, with Oxford St continuing on into the Lyttelton Railway Station yard and the wharves beyond.
Established in 1867, the Lyttelton Railway Station was constructed to accommodate passengers traversing the recently completed Moorhouse Rail Tunnel, thus rendering the Ferrymead Railway, New Zealand's inaugural public railway line, obsolete. The Lyttelton station held considerable significance as it facilitated a crucial connection between the port of Lyttelton and the city of Christchurch, as well as linking the port to the wider Canterbury region. This connectivity allowed for the efficient transport of goods and passengers by means of rail, and resulted in the rapid expansion of freight and passenger rail services through the latter decades of the nineteenth century. The initial station building was a humble wooden construction, featuring a gabled roof and dimensions of just 5 by 11 metres. A crowd of approximately 500 citizens gathered there on 9 December 1867 to welcome the arrival of the first passenger train, with some noting that the station appeared to be unfinished, without a roofed platform, and of a ‘temporary quality’.
In January 1873, with the station having survived the great fire of 1870, designs for a new and more accommodating building were devised. The General Manager of Canterbury Provincial Railways, John Marshman, successfully persuaded the provincial government to construct verandas over the station platforms, arguing that he had never seen a railway station of Lyttelton's significance that required passengers to brave the rain in order to board a train. This second rainproof railway station commenced operation upon its completion in August 1873. However, it would be another 6 years, and some 12 years after the rail tunnel opened, before regularly scheduled passenger rail services between Lyttelton and Christchurch would finally commence on 17 December 1879.
Through to the twentieth century, the Lyttelton Railway Station became an important public transportation hub for the region, with its passenger trains connecting with steam ferries to and from Diamond Harbour, the Corsair Bay Recreation Reserve, and bays around Horomaka Banks Peninsula, along with a regular Royal Mail passenger coach service to Governors Bay and beyond. Throughout its nine long decades of service to the community, this second station saw a huge growth in passenger services, along with the advent of electric trains in 1929, and went through multiple repairs and refurbishments. After just 30 years, in 1910, the District Engineer had recommended its demolition and the building of a new station, to no avail. A quarter of a century later, in 1935, another District Engineer noted a severe borer infestation. Yet it was not until 7 August 1962 that the Minister of Railways, John McAlpine, finally announced the demolition and redevelopment of a rather dilapidated Lyttelton Railway Station.
The construction project went ahead despite concerns surrounding the long-term sustainability of passenger rail services between Lyttelton and Christchurch, as the imminent completion of the Lyttelton Road Tunnel was expected to establish road transport as a serious competitor for public patronage. And sure enough, the distinctly 1960s-style third Lyttelton Railway Station remained operational for just shy of a decade before the New Zealand Railways Department (NZR) made the decision to terminate passenger services through the Lyttelton Railway Tunnel due to diminishing passenger counts. The regular passenger rail service between Lyttelton and Christchurch was thus discontinued on 28 February 1972, and with it the century-long history of the Lyttelton Railway Station at the heart of the port town became a fading memory.
Intermittent rail passenger services continued with the ‘boat train’ express connecting with the interisland ferry service until the ferries stopped in 1976. A Christchurch-Lyttelton Port shuttle service for cruise ships was active for some years, as well as a Tranz Scenic service to Arthur’s Pass, with the station building also providing office space for NZR staff. Following the devastating Canterbury earthquakes of 2010-11 the third Lyttelton Railway Station building was demolished in 2017.