The popular Murder Mystery Dinner Train based in Fort Myers is down, but not out.
Hurricane Ian, a deadly Category 4 storm, has caused an array of issues for a wide-range of people, from wrecking homes to destroying countless businesses throughout the region. It seems like few have been spared.
For Robert Fay, executive vice-president of the Seminole Gulf Railway, there has been much for him to absorb from a business and personal perspective, starting with multiple breeches to bridges used by the railway to move goods in and out of Southwest Florida by rail.
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Fay and his family are also the owners of the Murder Mystery Dinner Train. It was only a year ago they were celebrating their 30th year of the dinner train and at the same time digging out from the coronavirus pandemic that shut down their operation for 10 months.
“We opened again in February of this year,” Fay said. “It seems like we just opened.”
And then along came Ian on Sept. 28, taking the dinner train off-line again.
Fay led a media event on Thursday with local officials that took place on the south side of the railway bridge that crosses the Caloosahatchee in Fort Myers. It is estimated it will cost $28 million to repair that bridge and others along the line, including the Peace River structure. Fay is hoping that can happen as soon as two months.
In the meantime, there are plans in place to get the Murder Mystery Dinner Train running again, in some form, by mid-November. Fay is targeting Nov. 18 for reopening so the company can roll out its Christmas show.
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There has been some impact on the staff, including some now being out of a job. But Fay said he has found things for some of the others to do until things get back to normal with the operation.
Since it started in 1991 the company has been an entertainment staple in Fort Myers. Along with the murder mystery show, passengers get a five-course meal and a great view of Southwest Florida’s off the beaten path scenery.
“We will open but it won’t be the full trip that it was,” Fay said. “We will still have the five course dinner and the mystery show but we may run south toward Alico Road and come back this way. Go in both directions for a period of time.”
Susan Fay, Fay’s mother, started the company.
“it’s her brainchild, her baby,” Fay said.
Susan is looking forward to the dinner train running again.
“I look forward to celebrating the reopening of the Murder Mystery Dinner Train for the holidays,” Susan said. “See you on November 18 for the opening of our classic Christmas murder mystery, Nutcracker’s Final Curtain.”
Fay said when the dinner train is running again the company will be taking some of the proceeds and donating to one of the disaster relief efforts underway.
This isn’t the first time a bridge has been damaged. Fay said a boat collided with the Caloosahatchee bridge years ago, causing a fire. The difference? The bridge was still usable.
Fay said the damage from Ian to the railway and its associated components goes beyond the bridges that were impacted. Efforts are underway to clear debris from the rails, some of the locomotives were damaged, and damage caused to structures by wind.
“It’s taking time,” he said.