Vacuum truck helps make train oil tanker car implode on Mythbusters

We’ve seen the news clips and read the stories of railroad tanker cars carrying crude oil bursting into flames as if they were little toy tankers.

Tanker cars are strong pieces of equipment that, when compromised in some way in an accident, can become dangerous.

In a Jan. 16 episode of Mythbusters on the Discovery Network, hosts Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman wanted to test the strength of tanker cars and attempt to make one implode on itself.

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“It’s going to be the biggest production we’ve ever undertaken on this show, an imploding tanker car,” says Hyneman, at the start of the episode. The two started with scale versions of the tanker car built out of oil drums. After releasing the vacuum on the scale versions, they imploded.

It was a little more difficult with the real tanker car though. The show first filled a tanker car with steam — pretending to clean the inside — and then removed the vacuum inside the car using a Guzzler vacuum truck. There was no affect on the car.

“These tank cars are actually pretty tough little bastards, but as always we have one more little trick up our sleeve,” Hyneman says as the show cuts to a picture of a crane approaching the tanker car.

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The crane lifted a concrete block over the tanker car and dropped it onto the car to imitate an accident. “Hopefully it’ll leave a nice big dent in our tank car and then when we pull the vacuum on it, that dent will cause the whole thing to buckle,” Hyneman says. “Kind of like pulling a single card out of a house of cards. At least that is what we hope.”

It worked. After dropping the block on the tank car, the show again used the Guzzler to pull the vacuum and at 23 inches of vacuum, the tanker imploded. Hyneman and Savage were thrilled as it was shown over and over again — in slow motion.

“This is all about the geometry, just like with a chicken’s egg,” Hyneman says. “(Eggs are) really quite strong and you can’t break them in your hand when you squeeze them. All it takes is one little crack on the frying pan and the whole thing unravels.”

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It goes to show how much of a beating these cars can take and what type of force is needed for them to break. 

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