Estación Central General Artigas was the central railway station of Montevideo until the 1st of March 2003. Since then it has been abandoned, only being used a few times for art exhibitions and music concerts. After the railway station closed, the national train company lost 100,000 passengers and a substantial amount of money. Plans to restore it are moving slowly due to conflicting interests between the government and the state railway administration.
Before this building was constructed and officially opened, Montevideo had two so-called primitive stations and two other minor rural ones. The two stations of greater importance started operating in 1871 and 1874. They are referred as primitive today because the first one had two floors with a single platform for passengers while the other was a one-floor rented house with an improvised platform. A couple of years later, as the city grew and more people came to South America from Europe, officials in Montevideo realized that a larger terminal station was needed. The plans were completed in 1888 and the location was chosen.
Pre-construction works on Estación Central General Artigas started in 1892 after a fire destroyed the old station of Montevideo. The cornerstone was laid on August 27th, 1893. Between the fire and the opening of the new station, another provisional station was installed at the construction site. The new station was designed by Luis Andreoni, an engineer born in Italy and widely respected in Uruguay for his work. Luis Andreoni designed a head-end station in an eclectic style with a cross-bar as well as two station wings running parallel to the tracks. The construction was completed on the 23rd of June and the new station was opened on the 15th of July 1897 to great celebration. On July 8th, 1975, it was declared a National Historic Monument of Uruguay.
On January 2nd, 1988, all passenger transport services were canceled but the building remained an administrative center for the state railway system. While the offices were still busy with administrative workers, the empty hallways of the stations were used for various art exhibitions and projects. Other than art installations and exhibitions, the station and train platforms were used as a venue for music concerts. Between 1992 and 2004, big names like Iron Maiden, Duran Duran, and The Wailers played their music there.
During that period, the station was closed to the public. It was used as a squat by artists from the local community and from around the world. However, this only lasted a short period of time; neighbors eventually complained about noise and music to the police, who intervened and evicted the residents.
Since 2007, the station has been reconnected to the national rail network but no traffic has been re-established. Associations and various non-government organizations have been working on a total reboot of the Estación Central General Artigas by collecting signatures from the residents of Montevideo. Various solutions and ideas for the building’s use were brought to the table by the government, one of them being to use the station as a new home for the Uruguayan Congress. This also failed due to conflicting interests with the State Railways Administration, who also want to reopen the station as a passenger railway terminal. Legal obstacles are stalling any progress for the time being. Hopefully, this beautiful piece of architecture and engineering will one day be restored to its former glory.