Despite being a highly seismic country, innovation and talent have allowed Chile to overcome its challenges and become home to some great engineering works, such as two of the tallest constructions in South America, one of the longest tunnels in Latin America, dams, highways, modern renewable energy plants and even the world’s largest future telescope.
Every May 14, Chile commemorates National Engineering Day, in honor of the engineers who assisted in the country’s reconstruction after the earthquake of May 13, 1647. The challenge of building great engineering works in a seismic country like Chile has been overcome by constructions such as the tallest tower in South America, the longest tunnel of its time in Latin America and the highest railway bridge of its day in the world. Here is a compilation of some great engineering works created in Chile, compiled with information from the Colegio de Ingenieros, Universidad Católica and Universidad de Chile.
Malleco Viaduct: the highest in the world of its time. Located over the Malleco River, in the Collipulli municipality of La Araucanía Region, it was considered the highest railway bridge in the world, with a height of 102 meters from the rails to the bottom of the ravine. Its construction, carried out by Schneider et Cie. began in 1887, and it was inaugurated in October 1890. It allowed for the south and the center of the country to be connected, boosting trade and economic development in southern Chile. It is one of the largest metallic engineering works in Chile, with a length of 347.5 meters. It was declared a national monument in 1990, and today is on the World Heritage Tentative List.
Las Raíces Tunnel: the longest of its day in Latin America. Also located in La Araucanía Region, Las Raíces Tunnel was the longest railway tunnel in Latin America, with a length of 4,528 meters. Built in 1939, it connects the municipalities of Curacautín and Lonquimay at 1,000 meters above sea level. Today it is the fifth longest vehicular tunnel in Latin America, surpassed only by four Colombian works.
San Carlos Canal: built during colonial times. Its construction, carried out to channel the waters of the Maipo River in the Metropolitan Region, is recognized as a feat of Chilean engineering. Although its layout dates back to 1588, it was finally completed at the end of the 18th century, during Chile’s transition from Spanish Colony to Republic. Today, the colonial bridge of the old San Carlos Canal, built in 1805, is a historical monument located over a trench that forms part of the former course of the San Carlos Canal.
Rapel Power Plant: the first largescale hydroelectric power plant. Beginning in 1942, Chile carried out several studies for the construction of a dam in the Melipilla sector, which would create a lake to facilitate irrigation for agricultural and livestock activities. Finally, in 1956, Endesa determined that the Rapel River in the O’Higgins Region was suitable for the construction of a hydroelectric power plant. It was finally inaugurated on June 21, 1968, becoming the first largescale hydroelectric power plant in Chile. Its structure is 112 meters high and is composed of a dam wall consisting of a reinforced concrete vault.
Gran Torre Santiago: the tallest tower in South America. With a height of 300 meters and 62 floors, this building located in Santiago is not only the tallest skyscraper in Chile, but also the tallest in South America. At the time of its inauguration in 2014, it was also the tallest in Latin America, to be dethroned in 2020 by the Obispado Tower in Monterrey, Mexico. In addition, it is one of the megastructures located in a high seismic risk sector.
Cerro Dominador: first concentrated solar power plant in Latin America. Since its inauguration in June 2021, Cerro Dominador, located in the Antofagasta Region in the middle of the Atacama Desert, has become an emblem of renewable energies in Latin America for using concentrated solar tower and photovoltaic technologies. This plant uses 10,600 mirrors, or heliostats, which reflect sunlight and concentrate the heat in a receiver located at the top of the tower, at a height of 250 meters. This makes it the second tallest tower in South America.
Luz del Norte solar farm: the largest photovoltaic installation in South America. Located in the Atacama Region in the middle of the Atacama Desert, this photovoltaic plant is the first largescale solar facility in the world authorized to provide complementary services to the electricity grid on a commercial basis. The plant, with the capacity to produce energy for 174,000 homes, belongs to US-based First Solar.
Cerro Pabellón: first geothermal plant in South America. This geothermal plant was commissioned in September 2017. Built at 4,500 meters above sea level, it was the first in South America and the first largescale plant in the world. Located in the Atacama Desert in the Antofagasta Region, Cerro Pabellón has the capacity to supply energy to 165,000 homes.
Santiago Metro: one of the most extensive and modern. Construction began in 1969 and it officially began to operate with the inauguration of the San Pablo-La Moneda section in 1975. It has seven subway lines, totaling 140 kilometers in length, and 136 stations, which reach 25 municipalities in the Metropolitan Region. It is renowned as the best subway train in the Americas and to this day is the second longest in Latin America.
Costanera Norte Highway: innovation under the river. This highway crosses the city of Santiago, the capital of Chile, from east to west. With a length of 42 kilometers, it includes a 5-kilometer tunnel under the Mapocho River, which makes it one of the most important city works in recent years. It was inaugurated in 2005, and is today considered one of the most modern urban highways in the world. It also uses a free flow in-motion billing system.
Basilica del Salvador: anti-seismic heritage. A particular feature of this church located in downtown Santiago is its anti-seismic protection. Thanks to a project led by a group of engineers from the Universidad Católica, they made Chile the first country in Latin America to protect its heritage structures against future earthquakes. This building, built between 1873 and 1892, was hit by the 1985 and 2010 earthquakes, after which this protection project was initiated.
European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT): The E-ELT is currently under construction at Cerro Armazones in the Antofagasta Region, and will be the world’s largest optical-infrared telescope. The project is thanks to an agreement between the European Southern Observatory (ESO) and the Chilean government.
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