Having realised that their existing Crown Street Station was too far away from the city centre, the Liverpool and Manchester Railway (L&MR) commenced construction of the more central Lime Street Station during October 1833. Designed by John Cunningham, Arthur Holme, and John Foster Jr, it was officially opened during August 1836. Proving to be very popular with the railway-going public, within six years of its opening, expansion of the station had become necessary. The first expansion, which was collaboratively designed by Richard Turner and William Fairburn, was completed during 1849 at a total cost of £15,000 (equivalent to £1,430,000 in 2016). During 1867, work upon a further expansion of Lime Street Station commenced, during which time the present northern arched train shed was built. Designed by William Baker and Francis Stevenson, upon completion, the train shed was the largest such structure in the world, featuring a span of 200 feet (61 m), as well as the first to make extensive use of iron. During 1879, a second parallel southern train shed was completed.
Following the nationalisation of the railways during 1948, Lime Street Station was the subject of various upgrades and alterations, installing new signalling systems in and around the station, a redeveloped concourse, along with the building of new retail and office spaces. During 1959, preparatory work commenced for the first stage of the electrification of the West Coast Main Line. On 1 January 1962, regular electric services between Lime Street and Crewe were officially started. On 18 April 1966, the station hosted the launch of its first InterCity service, which saw the introduction of a regular 100 mph (160 km/h) service between Liverpool and London. During the 1970s, a new urban rail network, known as Merseyrail was developed, while all other long-distance terminal stations in Liverpool were closed, resulting such services being centralised at Lime Street for the whole city. On 20 October 2003, the Pendolino service operated by private rail operator Virgin Trains, introducing a faster service between Liverpool and London, was ceremonially unveiled at the station. During May 2015, the electrification of the former Liverpool and Manchester Railway's route was completed, as well as the line to Wigan via St Helens Central.
Lime Street Station is fronted by a large building designed in the Renaissance Revival style, the former North Western Hotel, which has since been converted to apartments. Since the 1970s, the main terminal building has also provided direct access to the underground Lime Street Wirral Line station on the Merseyrail network. Between the 1960s and 2010, a office tower block named Concourse House, along with several retailers, stood outside the southern train shed; these have since been demolished and new facilities build elsewhere. Lime Street is the largest and oldest railway station in Liverpool, and is one of 18 stations managed by national infrastructure maintainence company Network Rail. On 28 February 2017, the station was cut off after a wall collapsed into the cutting between Lime Street and Edge Hill. During 2017, work commenced at Lime Street Station upon a £340 million remodelling programme. In Britain's 100 Best Railway Stations, written by columnist and editor Simon Jenkins, Lime Street Station was one of only ten to be awarded five stars.
The original terminus of the 1830 Liverpool and Manchester Railway (L&MR) was located at Crown Street, in Edge Hill, to the east of and outside the city centre. However, even before Edge Hill had been opened, it was apparent that there was a pressing need for another station to be built, which would this time be closer to the city centre. Accordingly, during October 1833, the construction commenced on a purpose-built station at Lime Street in the city centre; the land was purchased from Liverpool Corporation for £9,000 (equivalent to £780,000 in 2016). The means of connecting the new station to L&MR's network came in the form of a twin-track tunnel, which had been constructed between Edge Hill and the site of the new Lime Street station a year prior to work being started on the station itself; during the construction effort, the tunnel was frequently used to transport building materials for the station onto the site. The station was designed by the architects John Cunningham, Arthur Holme, and John Foster Jr.
During August 1836, Lime Street Station was officially opened to the public, although the construction process was not completed until the following year. This building was designed with four large gateways, two of which were intentionally nonfunctional. For its early operations, as a consequence of the steep incline uphill from Lime Street to Edge Hill, trains would be halted at Edge Hill and the locomotives detached from the trains; the practice of the era was for the passenger carriages to be taken down by gravity, during which the rate of descent would be controlled by brakemen located in a brake van. The return journey was achieved via the use of a stationary steam engine located at Edge Hill, which would be used to haul the carriages up to Edge Hill by rope. This system was constructed by the local engineering firm Mather, Dixon and Company, who worked under the direction of the engineer John Grantham. During 1870, this practice came to an end; instead, trains would enter and depart the station via conventional means.