Safety & Physics Exercise – “What Would Cause This To Happen?”


On Wednesday April 4, 2011, a Burlington Northern train unloaded its cargo in a small railroad yard in West Plains, Missouri. As with all train cars after being unloaded, the local railroad crew was assigned the task of cleaning the interior of each car. Since the train cars were not unloaded until near the end of a working shift, the crew members were rushed to finish the job. With cleaning equipment in hand, each worker steam cleaned the inside walls of each train car. Once completed, each worker was eager to “clock out” and return home for the evening. However, to the surprise of all Burlington Northern employees, the above picture shows the way one of the cars appeared when the morning shift arrived at the train yard. The overwhelming question among the Burlington Northern employees is what had happened to the tanker?

As an investigator for Burlington Northern, your task will be to determine what happened on the night of April 4, 2011 in the darkness of this train yard. How could a train car with a steel plate thickness of 7/16 inch suddenly collapse overnight? It is hard to imagine the forces it took to do this much damage, to such a large steel object. What created these forces? Could it have been vandals who sneaked into the yard and inflected this damage? Or maybe it was a large massive object which had fallen on the tanker. Your job as an investigator is to solve this mystery.

What Do You think happened to cause this??

6 thoughts on “Safety & Physics Exercise – “What Would Cause This To Happen?”

  1. The video wouldn’t play for me, but judging by your description of the event: The steam heated and expanded the atmosphere inside the tanker. When the tanker was sealed and cooled by the night air the atmospheric pressure collapsed the tanker – just like with the tin can experiment in science class.


  2. Good afternoon,
    Am I missing something? I don’t see anything wrong with the tank car in
    the picture!
    Is this the right picture?
    Tony Tripi
    EHS Manager
    Sandvik Palm Coast
    Office: 386-447-5046
    Cell: 904-806-9027
    “Think Safety…Stay Safe!”

    EHS Safety News America


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