Trench Drain in Santiago de Chile

Santiago de Chile

I visited Santiago de Chile in 2017 to attend a conference and to survey the town’s trench drain market. Chile is currently the most economically sound country in South America. The country’s top industries are mining, paper pulp, agriculture, fishing and wine. Much of these products are exported. The population of Chile is approximately 17 million. A big portion of that population (7.5 million) live in the nation’s capital, Santiago.

Plaza de Armes
Plaza de Armes is what I expected from a traditional, Latin-American city

Santiago is a mixture of new “Big City” and traditional barrios similar to other Latin countries. But here in Santiago, South America has a gem.  An example of the city’s modern architecture and status in the Latin community is the Costanera Center, located in a part of the city known as Sanhattan (after Manhattan of Santiago). It is currently the tallest building in South America. This neighborhood houses the new business district and probably the most elite in Chile. Throughout the city, I saw modern construction project taking place.  Another indication of a good economy.

Chile Overlooking SantiagoThe old part of the city, Plaza de Armes, has a concentration of government buildings, markets, pedestrian streets and monuments. This part of town is what I expect from a traditional, Latin-American city. However, it is cleaner and has less vagrants than other parts of South America.

Overlooking the city from the Metropolitan Park, one can see the great expanse of housing and infrastructure that makes up Santiago. Remember, 40% of Chile lives in Santiago. In total, you are looking at 641 square kilometers of ground that makes up the city. A large portion of the city you can see from the Metropolitan Park, which is located on a mountain in the center of the city. You can reach the peak by taking a trolley or gondola ride. There, you will be greeted by a large statue of Mary, the mother of Jesus. No Latino capital is complete without a large Christian statue overlooking the city.

In the past, I have written articles about trench drain usage in Brazil, which seems to be somewhat artisan or homemade. Modern modular systems are rare in Brazil. Not the case in Chile. In this recent trip to Santiago, I was impressed by the widespread use of manufactured trench drain systems used within the infrastructure of the city. And, with all the paved areas, you can be sure there is a bunch of trench drain. What drainage I saw reminds me of that which I have seen in Europe. I did see a few new things, which is exciting to me. So, let’s begin my survey.

Chile Parque Arauco
Pedestrian rated galvanized slotted grates and modular trench drain systems were in abundance

Parque Arauco – This park and mall is in a highly developed part of the city called Los Condes. There are many hotels, restaurants, and paved surfaces here. This is where I saw an abundance of modular trench drain systems with pedestrian rated galvanized slotted grates. The most recognizable manufacturers seen were ACO (Socodren) and ULMA, both from Europe. The channel widths seemed to be 100mm and 150mm. I didn’t see any drains that were pre-sloped.

Socodren seems to be a distributor of ACO products but may also have their own product line. Their website,, talks about ACO and other product lines. On the drain grating itself, the name Fabregas is also found. I’m under the impression they are one and the same in Chile.

Interesting to note, I saw no heel-proof grating on the channels. This area is loaded with Latina girls in small fashionable heels. I met one woman that had gotten her heel stuck in a grate. But still, they don’t seem to have a heel-proof grating market. (Note to self: potential market opportunity)

Chile Metropolitan Park
A great example of how snap on grates can have their own set of challenges

Metropolitan Park – More modular trench drains were seen in the Metropolitan Park sitting high above the city.  Pictured to the left is an example of a drain systems that is non-sloped and that use “snap-in” grating (as opposed to bolt down grating). This is a common sight usually in Europe. As can be seen, snap in grating inevitably becomes loose and the grates are lost or stolen. When drain systems aren’t pre-sloped, they tend to fill with sediment as seen here. If the drain system isn’t maintained, it will eventually fill with sediment. This particular drain is below a set of steps and would be a lawsuit ready to happen in the United States. I guess in this case, it is good that the kind people in Santiago aren’t as “modernized” as we are in the States.

Chile Nicoll Nordic
Grate from Denmark company, Nicoll Nordic

Further on in the park, I found a plastic channel with a galvanized steel grate made by a company called “Nicoll Nordic”.  This is a new one to me. The company is out of Denmark and offers Polyethylene and Polypropylene channels. They claim to be drainage experts. They have a bunch of pipe fittings of various fire and chemical resistance. But I had a difficult time finding linear drainage. I did find it buried deep in the website. Let’s just say they are technical about piping systems.

High on top of the peak of the park, we were able to get a great view of the city while standing under the open arms of St. Mary. Low and behold, we found some interesting drain grating in an amphitheater where Pope Francis just visited in January of that year. Interestingly, the grate is made of hollow square tubing that has been welded together to form a light-weight grating. Within the trench it covers, a water line is present. This is the first of a few homemade trenches we found during our travels.

Chile Homemade Trench
This is the first of a few homemade trenches we found during our travels

Plaza de ArmesSanta Lucia – This part of town is probably the oldest and considered the city center. It adjoins another neighborhood where a college is located. The Plaza is a five acre green space that is heavily paved. People come to sit, rest, have lunch or enjoy the fountains and art work. Around the perimeter of the plaza are streets lined with a cathedral, museums, government buildings, restaurants, street vendors and a few beggars. A few blocks of roadway to the northeast of the plaza has been turned into pedestrian-only hardscapes. More street vendors line these areas. Restaurants and stores occupy the buildings that line the pedestrian thoroughfares. Inside the massive concrete, brick and stone structures that line those city blocks are more stores of every kind. You can shop inside the mall section (bottom floor) of one building, cross the pedestrian streetscape to another building and continue shopping in a different mall area. Very enjoyable if you like to shop and eat, which I do!!

Throughout these streetscapes, trench drain was everywhere. The majority of the drains were ACO or ULMA, 100mm wide drains with galvanized steel mesh grating. These often didn’t have any locking mechanism to hold the grate into the channel.  Sometimes, an ACO grate was found to replace a grate in an ULMA system, and visa versa. Channel systems were sometimes wider than the standard 100mm system. Channel widths up to 200 mm were spotted, but pretty much always using the galvanized mesh grates in these high traffic pedestrian areas.

Chile Mesh Grates
Mesh grating is used in Santiago for many pedestrian areas

It’s interesting to note the grating choice differences between the US and Chilean markets. Mesh grating is used here in Santiago for many pedestrian areas. The ADA nature of the mesh grate and the high open area make it ideal for handling heavy rain in a predominantly paved area. The large grate openings do make it easier for small trash and cigarette butts to accumulate. However, they are able to handle their drainage problem with 4” and 6” wide (100mm and 150mm) drains. In the States, heel-proof grating generally is the preferred choice in high pedestrian traffic areas. To achieve the flows required for similar streetscapes, a wider drain would be required just to get an equivalent amount of open area for drainage to take place. Of course, that means we in the States have to use bigger systems and spend more money just so a hapless few don’t ruin their shoes. Ce’st la vie.

Chile ULMA
ULMA drainage systems were found in many areas with heavier vehicular traffic

Along the sidewalks where automobile traffic occurred and where higher storm water flows accumulated, 300mm wide ULMA trench drain systems were often found. The grating used in the application was ductile iron slotted rated for automobile loads. This is to be expected. ULMA must have a good distributor in Chile because their product was everywhere. It has been making strides to be more present in the States and is giving ACO a run for its money since the quality is equal but ULMA is more cost effective.

Mercado Central – The central market is located a few blocks from the Plaza. I always like going to the main markets of a town because it gives you a look into the history, culture and people that you won’t see in the promoted attractions. Chile has a rich tradition in fish and

One of few fresh fish vendors; the market is predominantly filled with restaurants

wine. The central market was once filled with different fish vendors. Today, a few vendors still sell fish. However, restaurants specializing in fish (and wine) took up most of the market. What a nice place to take an extended lunch break.

As this is an old building, we saw a few more examples of artisan drains. The first was a welded bar grating as we entered the market. How many people have walked over this busy drain? Next, was an ancestor to the slot drain. This metal plate was in the center of the market, just next to the local musicians that played guitars and sang traditional music.

Chile Drain Grate
This drain has seen some heavy traffic at the entrance of a market.
Chile Slot Drain
Ancestor of today’s slot drainage

Santa Rita Winery – What would a trip to Chile be without visiting a winery. They have a wonderful growing wine culture that features a local wine favorite, Carmenere. Carmenere was one of the original six red wine grapes of the Bordeaux region of France. Now, rarely found in France, Chile has the world’s largest area planted with this variety. And, the Santa Rita Winery makes a nice product.

Chile Form trench-bar gratesMy visit to the winery was in September, or Spring, in Chile. The weather was a little cool and damp, just right for the visit, though, no grapes were in the vine. There was trench drain to ponder over. The drains in this winery were formed in concrete with grating fabricated by local craftsmen. The bulk of the product was steel bar grating, at approximately 10″ wide (250mm). This sort of grating lined the trenches in the winery, when grating was used. Some trenches also contained utility pipes while other trenches were left open (without grating) for easy access.

Chile Stainless Steel Trench drainIn the bottling room, things were a little more sophisticated. The room was full of stainless steel, automated labeling and bottling equipment. To minimize the footprint of the drain, stainless steel slot drain was used. This is efficient from the standpoint of being high load capacity and good flow into the drain. It is also tidy and inconspicuous. Cleaning and sanitizing a slot drain can be a challenge as there is minimal access ports. They do have their place and this application seems to be appropriate.

The visit to Santa Rita came at the end of a week long visit to Chile. And, with all winery tours, that visit came with a product tasting. What a fitting end to an intense study of trench drain. And, yes, those two glasses of wine belonged to her.

Thanks for reading, Cheers!


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