Talley at Whittier Tunnel holing
Col. Benjamin B. Talley, commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Alaska (second from right) and Lt. Gen. Simon B. Buckner Jr., commander of the Alaska Defense Command (third from right), enter the Whittier Tunnel during a holing through ceremony Nov. 20, 1942. The Army began construction of the railroad spur from Whittier to Portage in 1941, which became Alaska’s main supply link for the war effort. The main advantages of using Whittier as a rail port were a shorter voyage, reduced exposure of ships to Japanese submarines, reduced risk of Japanese aircraft bombing the port facilities because of frequent poor weather and avoiding the steep railroad grades required to traverse the Kenai Mountains. Workers completed the spur April 23, 1943, which consisted of a 1-mile tunnel through Begich Peak and a 2.5-mile tunnel through Maynard Mountain, thus linking Whittier to the Alaska Railroad’s main line at Portage. In 2000, motor vehicle access was established, creating the longest combined-use tunnel in North America.

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