Built thirty years ago, the metro rail that runs both under and above Main Street is finally seeing a bright future. What’s the cause? The catalyst is the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, where 17,500 people are expected to be working soon, and they will depend more than ever on the oft-maligned “train to nowhere.”

As a result, at least $91 million has or is soon to be invested in real estate projects – primarily lofts and apartments – near the subway stations. The city hopes to approve 800 to 900 new housing units along the Main Street subway spine by 2016, with as many as 2,000 to 3,000 more in later years. And while they now see Metro Rail finally fulfilling its transit and development potential, transit officials, real estate developers, city officials and those guiding the city’s burgeoning medical industry all agree the development will spawn an urban lifestyle. It is also possible many Buffalonians may choose not to own cars, they say.

The city planning chief echoes what everyone from the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus to the University at Buffalo all acknowledge: “This can’t happen without Metro Rail.”

Developments sparked by the new job-growth concentration on downtown’s north edge include:

• At least $91 million worth of real estate investment in hundreds of new housing units around subway stations like Utica, Amherst and LaSalle.

• A projected surge in rail ridership as thousands of Medical Campus workers commute to a facility deliberately designed without employee parking.

• Plans for a “coatless” Medical Campus connected by tunnels and skywalks, anchored by a new $350 million UB Medical School incorporated into the Allen/Medical Campus Station.

• Medical Campus ideas for car sharing that encourage mass transit-dependent employees to check out rentals for business or pleasure outside the urban core.

• Medical Campus proposals for extending Metro Rail through the former Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad Terminal to a parking and transit hub in the Old First Ward for longer-range commuters.

• A Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority study under way that examines extending Metro Rail or another mass transit alternative to Amherst, with much of the justification based on serving the Medical Campus.

• City Hall’s new emphasis on a Main Street “knowledge corridor” encompassing Erie Community College, downtown financial and legal institutions, the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library, the Medical Campus, Canisius College, Medaille College, Sisters Hospital and UB.