Sunday, April 4, 2010

Soutrivier (A 17)

Name: Soutrivier

Western Cape (Cape Town)
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Die Soutrivier-dodehuis: Die lyf en liggaam in sy mees naakte en onversluierde staat
Deon Knobel

[50] The night of the collision was dark with a high wind blowing. In moving the train the driver was carrying out what was, for him, a routine task. He had no reason to expect any happening out of the ordinary. The railway tracks curved towards the point of collision and the headlight of the train probably did not illuminate the appellants until after the driver had picked up the dark figures ahead of him. The transcript of his evidence reads as follows:

‘. . . Ek het die twee swart figure gesien, volgens my, wat beweeg het na Soutrivier, het tussen die twee spore geloop op die draai van die pad.

U is nou in aantog en daar is ‘n draai? - - - Dit is korrek, ja, hulle het tussen die twee spore geloop. Ek het my sirene aanhoudend geblaas.

Ja? - - - Ek het geen reaksie gekry nie. Ek het my remhandvatsel bedien, my remhandvatsel vol aangeslaan en my voete op my sirene gehou.

En die ander hand met die accelerator, wat het u met hom gedoen? - - - My accelerator het ek afgesluit.

Afgesluit? - - - Het ek afgesluit en terwyl ek nader beweeg aan hulle, het ek my dooiemanseienskap gelos met my remhandvatsel nog vol aan en ek het hulle gestamp.’

[51] In cross-examination on behalf of the appellants and Kuffs, Mr Human consistently said that there were a few seconds (‘’n paar sekondes’or ‘’n kwessie van sekondes’) between the time when he first saw the appellants and sounded the siren and the time when he applied the brakes and took other measures to bring the train to a halt. Metrorail’s expert witness, Mr Carver, made his calculations and measurements on the assumption that ‘’n paar sekondes’ was three seconds. This was accepted by all parties as a reasonable premise.

[52] At the in loco inspection, the witness Van Reenen pointed out the approximate places at which he had found the first and second appellants lying after the collision. The necessary measurements were taken. On the basis of the evidence given at the trial, the pointing out at the inspection, and his own measurements, Carver determined fixed points, which were adopted by all of the parties, viz the point at which the train probably came to a halt after striking the appellants, and the probable point of impact with the appellants. From these points, Carver concluded that the train had travelled for 29 metres from the first point of impact to the point where it came to a halt. Using this information, Carver was able to calculate the point at which the brakes would have been applied, depending upon the speed at which the train was travelling at the time. He could do this because the rate of deceleration is constant from any given speed. This evidence too was undisputed. Carver then applied this information together with his analysis of the visibility of the appellants, to reach a conclusion as to the speed at which the train was travelling at the time when the driver first saw the appellants. He estimated that it was in the region of 40 km per hour. At any speed below 32.5 km per hour there would not have been an accident, because the train would have stopped before it reached the appellants.

[53] This was Metrorail’s case: it was the evidence adduced by Metrorail in Carver’s evidence-in-chief. None of it was contested by appellants’ counsel.

[54] Under cross-examination, Carver was asked to calculate what would have happened if the driver had applied the brakes immediately on seeing the appellants on the tracks, instead of first sounding the siren and waiting for some seconds before doing so. His conclusions were:

(a) If the train was travelling at 35 km per hour when Human saw the appellants on the track, and he had immediately applied the brakes, the train would have come to a standstill 29 to 30 metres before the point where in fact it did stop, in other words, almost exactly at the point of impact. Because the train would have been travelling more slowly (the brakes having been applied earlier), the appellants would have moved on a metre or two beyond the point of impact. He therefore concluded that if the train was travelling at 35 km per hour, and if the driver had immediately applied the brakes on seeing the appellants on the tracks, the accident would not have happened.
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