At least 6 Southwest Florida railroad bridges washed away by Hurricane Ian, shutting down major supply lines

Video footage from a drone follows the Seminole Gulf Rail line near Fort Myers until suddenly the train tracks disappear – in the middle of the Caloosahatchee River. The bridge is just one of many that are now gone after Hurricane Ian ripped through Southwest Florida. 

It's one of at least six railroad bridges that were washed away by Hurricane Ian, and that has totally shut down one of the major supply lines into Fort Myers and Naples. The railroad supplied most of the propane to the region and much of the plywood and drywall needed to rebuild from the devastation. 

"Six that we know of," said Rob Fay, a railway vice president. "As best we can tell, we’ve lost three over the Caloosahatchee."

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Ian also took out bridges over the Peace River. The rail yard north of Arcadia is also underwater. 

"It’s unlike anything we’ve ever seen," said Fay. 

He said engineers will need to make more inspections, but he estimates it could take $10 million or more to repair or rebuild the 100-mile line between Arcadia and Naples. 

The Seminole Gulf Railway is known for its dinner theatre train, but the freight line is a critical loss for the Fort Myers and Naples areas where thousands of homes are damaged and in dire need of materials that are hauled by the railway. 

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"We bring in a lot of plywood, dimensional lumber, drywall, rebar, materials to make concrete, and rock for roadbeds," said Fay. They also transported much of the LP Gas for the region. He said one rail car can carry about the same amount of materials as four semi trucks.

I-75 flooded last week, and it continues to be jammed with people and supplies headed for Fort Myers, Sanibel Island and Naples. 

Seminole Gulf Railway is asking the Federal Railroad Administration for help. Fay believes that with government help, temporary repairs could be made to get the trains rolling again in Southwest Florida. 

"We do have some immediate temporary measures in place to divert traffic to our Sarasota division," said Fay.

But the freight sent to Sarasota has to be unloaded off the train and onto trucks to reach Fort Myers and Naples. Fay believes restoring the railway would be an important step toward be rebuilding areas heavily damaged by Hurricane Ian.