The station is managed by Greater Anglia. It is one of two railway stations in the city (the other being Cambridge North, approximately 2.5 miles (4.0 km) away). Cambridge is noted for having the third-longest platform on the network in England, at 514 yards (470 m).
In 1822 the first survey for a railway line in the Cambridge area was made and, in the 1820s and 1830s a number of other surveys were undertaken none of which came to fruition although the Northern and Eastern Railway had opened up a line as far as Bishop's Stortford by May 1842. The financial climate in the early 1840s ensured that no further scheme got off the ground, but by 1843, Parliament had passed an act enabling the Northern and Eastern Railway to extend the line to Newport (Essex). The following year, a further act was passed, extending the rights to build a railway through to Cambridge itself. In 1844, the Northern and Eastern Railway was leased by the Eastern Counties Railway (ECR), which built the extension.
The 1844 act also covered an extension of the line north of Cambridge to Brandon in Suffolk forming an end on connection to the line through to Norwich. Robert Stephenson was appointed engineer and on 29 July 1845, the station opened with services operating from Bishopsgate station in London via Stratford and Bishops Stortford.
In the years following the opening of the main line from Cambridge through to Norwich in 1845, other railways were built to Cambridge. Initially, some of these planned to have separate stations but opposition from the university saw them all eventually using the same station. The first line to arrive was the St Ives to Huntingdon line which opened in 1847 and was built by the East Anglian Railway. Services to Peterborough also commenced that year, with the opening of the line from Ely via March to Peterborough, which also became the main route for coal traffic into East Anglia which was built by the Eastern Counties Railway.