Village reverses train horn ban for Fourth of July

June 23, 2009

Hoping to prevent another holiday tragedy, Elm Grove is suspending its train horn ban for the Fourth of July.

The village expects an increase in vehicle and pedestrian traffic that day due to Fourth of July festivities.

The action comes on the heels of a train-van collision at the Juneau Boulevard crossing before the Memorial Day parade. Two people were seriously injured in that incident.

"It will be night when people are departing (Village Park)," Assistant Police Chief Gus Moulas said of the July 4 fireworks. "It will add some warning when the train approaches near the Juneau crossing specifically, but we are lifting the ban for all three crossings."

Railroad working with village

The Police Department is alerting Canadian Pacific Railway that train engineers should expect heavy pedestrian and vehicle traffic July 4 and that they will be allowed to sound their train's horn that day.

Like many municipalities, Elm Grove has a ban in place so that the noise from the horns does not disturb residents living near the tracks.

Police Chief Jim Gage said the quiet zone will be suspended from 8 a.m. until 11 p.m. July 4. The letter to the railroad also requests reduced train speed at all Elm Grove crossings, he said.

Jeff Johnson, municipal affairs manager with Canadian Pacific Railway, said engineers working on the Fourth of July will be notified of Elm Grove's suspension of the whistle ban via their general track bulletin, which tells them of daily changes.

"It was an unfortunate event on Memorial Day," he said. "But in some 20 years, this is the first time we've had an incident like this."

Johnson said Canadian Pacific Railway is willing to work with municipalities when a potential safety risk arises, including the high traffic situations anticipated on the Fourth.

Drivers urged to use caution

In the Memorial Day collision, a minivan driven by Monica Ensley-Partenfelder and carrying her 2-year-old son became stuck on the tracks.

Due to the quick actions of Elm Grove police officer John Krahn, Ensley-Partenfelder was pulled from the vehicle before the train slammed into it. However, Krahn was severely injured when the van struck him after it was hit. Also injured was Ensley-Partenfelder's husband, Scott Partenfelder, who was traveling in another vehicle and ran back to help.

Both men were trying to free the toddler from his car seat before the train struck the van. The toddler was unharmed, secure in his car seat. Krahn and Partenfelder were treated at Froedtert Hospital and have now been released.

"We remind people that due to the heavy traffic and pedestrian volume on Juneau near the crossing, that they should not stop on the tracks should they see a pause in movement or traffic is slowing down," Moulas said.

Ensley-Partenfelder has said vehicles in front of hers had stopped without warning so that passengers could get out and grab lawn chairs and other items.

"(People) should only enter onto the tracks if they know they have enough room on the other side," Gage said. "Don't go on there anticipating that the vehicles or people are going to move. … That's good advice any day."

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