Railroad bridge dedicated to late engineer

DEREK DANNEKER/Sun-Gazette A train crosses the railroad bridge over Loyalsock Creek from Montoursville toward Williamsport during a recent ceremony dedicating the bridge to its mastermind, the late John P. Conrad, who rebuilt it after Tropical Storm Lee.

The railroad bridge rebuilt after Tropical Storm Lee in 2011 now bears the name of the man who engineered its rebuilding.

About 140 people came together recently to dedicate the bridge over Loyalsock Creek in Montoursville in memory of John P. Conrad, who died in February after a fight with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

Conrad was tasked with the rebuilding project soon after Tropical Storm Lee flooded the creek and severely damaged the bridge in 2011, said George Fury, SEDA-Council of Goverments Joint Rail Authority property manager. Through Conrad’s dedication, knowledge and integrity, he pushed to build a “world-class” bridge on an unthinkable timeline, Fury said.

“The day after the flood, when the bridge had been washed away, I looked at him and said, ‘Hey John, how do you feel about building a bridge?’ He got that look on his face and said, ‘Well, I think that would be fine,’ “ said Fury.

Described as a walking textbook, Conrad assembled a team that he trusted as much as himself, said Fury.

“I often said it’s a day in the classroom with John. If you didn’t take advantage of his knowledge, you were a fool,” he said.

Federal, state and local funds were quickly made available for a final budget of $9.1 million and work began in 2013, said Jason Shura, now a project engineer with Stiffler McGaw & Associates. He worked under and was mentored by Conrad.

“Construction started immediately to meet the aggressive 12-month schedule,” Shura said.

The bridge needed to be put back into service as soon as possible and to be more flood resistant.

There were several problems along the way, said Shura.

“John was instrumental from the very beginning in addressing anything that came up,” he said.

Springs were soon encountered, for example, that necessitated pumping 8,000 gallons per minute to facilitate the build. Conrad worked closely with the contractor and the state Department of Environmental Protection to safely continue the work, said Shura.

Additionally, flooding was an ongoing issue. In January 2014, upstream ice melt caused the Lycoming Creek to rise 6 feet, he said.

“At John’s instruction, temporary towers were made to support the unfinished structure,” said Shura, these were drilled into bedrock to ensure the team’s investment up to that point would last.

In July 2014, the final culmination of efforts led to a structure that dwarfed its predecessor. At 487 feet, it is 142 feet longer, and has less impact on the creek with only two piers.

“Final construction includes 1.5 million pounds of steel, two tons of steel bolts used to make connections in the structure, and 2,300 cubic yards of concrete,” said Shura.

“What started as an engineer-contractor relationship developed into a life-long friendship,” said Bud Williams of Lycoming Supply. “It truly was my honor to know him.”

The county commissioners noted in a resolution read by Commissioner Jack McKernan that the bridge incorporated an “innovative, cost-effective, truss bridge design solution which resulted in a very timely bridge that both meets the region’s growing freight needs and reduces the flooding of the Montoursville community.”

Besides the bridge naming, two endowments will be created at Penn State Altoona to facilitate students entering the rail transportation engineering program, according to Mary Amato and Stephen Dillen of the university.

“Both the dedication of the Loyalsock bridge in John’s name and the creation of endowments at Penn State Altoona in John’s name are amazing tributes to this man who was loved by his family, his friends and his co-workers,” said Elaine Conrad, his wife. “I cannot thank you enough.”