CONCORD (CBS 5) — The Bay Area is not widely known as a strategic military outpost. But perceptions can be deceiving, as CBS 5 discovered. Case in point: The former Concord Naval Weapons Station.
Denise Perry lives in the small East Bay community of Clyde, right next door to the site and has been wondering what’s going on there. “What are they hauling, what are they doing?” she said.
Military weapons, including nuclear weapons, used to be stored in the hundreds of bunkers that dot the old base, but that was a long time ago. “We were told all the ammo explosives everything had been emptied. All the bunkers have been emptied,” Perry said.
But now Perry and her neighbors are not so sure. “There are trucks still coming in and out explosive signs on the trucks the trains,” she said.
The military has put up wooden slats over the fence to block the view. Security is high. Cameras are everywhere and trucks and rail cars leave the facility in the middle of the night. “Usually it’s between 12 and 4 am,” she said.
The former Naval Weapons Station, 5,000 acres south of Highway 4, has been shut down for years. But north of the highway is still a very active military base. It’s now called Military Ocean Terminal Concord (MOTCO), and its being run by the U.S. Army.
Believe it or not, military weapons are still being shipped through here, more than 50 million pounds of bullets, bombs and rockets last year alone. “It includes anything from grenades, any caliber of weapon, small missiles, incendiary devices,” confirmed U.S. Army Commander Chris Hart.
He said there are no more nuclear weapons passing through the base, and what comes in and out of this facility doesn’t stay long.
“You can see as you look out here the berms there and the bunkers there by the rail lines. That is where we temporarily put ammunition while it’s waiting for its onward movements,” Hart said.
The ordnance comes in by ship and goes out mostly by rail, and vice versa. “For the last mission we moved about 1,000 containers full of ammunition,” said Hart.
Chopper 5 caught the action recently, as dozens of containers were lifted onto waiting rail cars, all the work done not by the Army but by private contractors.
“We have bonded, licensed people who come in and take it out,” Hart said.
And then the cargo moves, just like any other freight, west to Martinez, across the Benicia Bridge and north to Fairfield, Sacramento and beyond. Other trains go east through Pittsburg, Antioch and Stockton. “This is a lot more routine than the average citizen might think, but it is extremely safe,” said Commander Hart.
But one expert is not so sure. “After 9/11 all this needs to be looked at much more carefully,” said rail security consultant Fred Millar.
He said one problem is that the military cargo often goes unattended. “There’s a chance that because of the regular demands of the railroad that just gets left sitting around,” Millar said.
What concerns Millar even more is something else CBS 5 discovered during the interview with Commander Hart. To our astonishment, we saw an Amtrak passenger train traveling right through the high security base.
It’s Amtrak’s San Joaquin line that starts in Oakland. Trains make stops throughout the East Bay before heading toward the Central Valley. CBS 5 rode one of the trains, getting on at the Martinez station.
The train passed the Army’s bunkers, which routinely contain military explosives. “Obviously that is a security risk. What if a terrorist were to try to arrange for the Amtrak train to get stopped in the military base,” he said. Yet no one on board our train seemed to have a clue.
CBS 5 asked Amtrak about that but they wouldn’t comment, referring us instead to the company that owns the tracks, Union Pacific.
“Amtrak is a partner of ours. They lease track space from us,” said Union Pacific spokesman Aaron Hunt.
He admits in this case Amtrak and the U.S. Army are sharing tracks. “In terms of the Amtrak operators I am not aware of how that is structured. I know on the Union Pacific side we train our employees heavily,” Hunt said. But he added: “I am not able to go into detail for obvious security reasons.”
“What that means of course is no accountability on what their doing,” said Millar.
Back in Clyde, Denise Perry couldn’t agree more: “We need to know as citizens here. If they do have explosives I would just really like them to be truthful to us.”
Editor’s Note: Federal and local authorities are aware of MOTCO and the fact that Amtrak passenger trains regularly run through the base. This information is not classified nor secret. We are highlighting what experts consider to be a security problem to raise the awareness of local residents and Amtrak riders.
(Copyright 2012 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)