The main concourse occupies almost the entire block bounded by De la Gauchetière Street, Robert-Bourassa Boulevard, René Lévesque Boulevard and Mansfield Street in Downtown Montreal. Its street address and principal vehicular access are on de La Gauchetière; pedestrian access is assured by numerous links through neighboring buildings. The station is adorned with art deco bas-relief friezes on its interior and exterior. The station building and associated properties are owned by Cominar REIT as of January 2012. Homburg Invest Inc. (renamed Canmarc in September 2011) was the previous owner, since November 30, 2007. Prior to that, from the station's inception in 1943, it had been owned by Canadian National Railway (CN).
Central Station is at the centre of the Quebec City–Windsor Corridor, the busiest inter-city rail service area in the nation (marketed as the Corridor), which extends from Windsor and Sarnia in the west, through Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal, to Quebec City in the east. Inter-city trains at Central Station are operated by Via Rail and Amtrak, while commuter rail services are operated by Réseau de transport métropolitain (RTM). The station is also connected to the Montreal Metro subway system.
Central Station opened in 1943, after several years of construction. It stands on the site originally occupied by the terminus of the Canadian Northern Railway's Tunnel Terminal which had originally opened in 1918.
Following the bankruptcy of the Grand Trunk Railway, the Government of the Dominion of Canada decided to consolidate the Grand Trunk Railway with the various Canadian Government Railways to form the Canadian National Railways (CNR). The merger left CNR with a somewhat viable patchwork of different networks. CNR endured a highly uncomfortable position in Montreal due to the scattering of its terminals.
Bonaventure Station was used for routes heading west and south east, the Tunnel Terminal served routes heading north, Moreau Street Station served eastbound routes, and the McGill Street Terminal served the interurban streetcars of the Montreal and Southern Counties Railway. What made matters worse was that the various stations were only connected to each other via long detours. In order to transfer a train from Bonaventure Station to Tunnel Station it would need to travel to Hawkesbury, Ontario, and to travel from Tunnel Station to Moreau Station it needed to take a detour via Rawdon in the Laurentians.
The solution chosen was to take advantage of the Mount Royal Tunnel to bring trains from the north and east through the tunnel to a large electrified central station. Trains from the south and west gained access by a new elevated viaduct. Interurban electric trains, however, remained at McGill Street Terminal until the service was abandoned in 1956.