The Downpatrick & County Down Railway has achieved another first for railway preservation in Ireland, with the passing out of the railway’s first woman Train Guard.
Twenty year old Rebecca Dougan from Comber in County Down is not only the youngest guard on the local heritage railway, but also believed to the first female Guard on any heritage railway operation on the island of Ireland.
Railway Chairman Robert Gardiner, himself a guard on the DCDR, offered his congratulations, “We’re delighted to announce that volunteer Rebecca Dougan was finally passed out as a shunter and guard during Saturday’s diesel running day.”
He continues, “She’s put in a lot of hard work to get this far, with practical training, building logs of hours of training runs, rules & regulations and eventually the nerve-wracking exam day with practical, written and verbal exams. But she did it! We knew she would, of course.”
Rebecca described how the passion was in the genes, “I have been coming down to the DCDR since I was born as my parents, Margaret and Raymond Dougan and my Uncle Paul McMullan are also volunteers there. As I grew older I started lending a hand by doing small things such as brushing out the passenger carriages and assisting passengers on and off the trains.”
“My dad and Uncle were both DCDR Guards and when I came into my early teen years I started to take an interest in their work as shunter/guards and so when I became old enough I was allowed to start training as a shunter/guard last year.”
A guard is the crew member responsible for operational and safety duties of the train, however she says there’s more to it than just blowing a whistle and flying a green flag at the driver.
“You have to learn how to safely shunt a train first before learning the Guard duties, but I stuck at it but it seemed to take a long time but despite that I never gave up and eventually last Saturday the date of my passing out exam arrived. I was rather nervous but was also keen to get it done with!”
Rebecca continues, “The exam entailed a shunting/guard exam both written and practical, which included for my first time taking out a passenger service on my own without anyone assisting me.”
However the nerves need not have worried her, “It was with great relief when my chief assessor Ian Cross informed me at the very end of the day that I had passed out as an official DCDR Guard/Shunter! My thanks to my two assessors Mike Beckett and Ian Cross and also all of my fellow DCDR volunteers who have been great in giving me the encouragement to do it.”
Rebecca’s father Raymond was of course there on the platform to watch his daughter pass out.
He said, “When Rebecca passed out as a DCDR Shunter/Guard on 7th January I was a very happy and proud father! I have been a DCDR volunteer and Shunter/Guard for about 25 years. Her mother and uncle
are also pleased and proud of Rebecca’s achievement – that now makes three guards from our family at the DCDR.”
Raymond continues, “Being guards ourselves, Paul and I know only too well that it can be extremely hard physical work especially in bad weather and to her great credit Rebecca has stuck to it and that has made me so proud of what she has done”
He adds, “Rebecca can now walk tall and go on to achieve her next DCDR goal.”
So what is that goal? Rebecca has of course already has that in her sights, “As for the future? In time I hope to go on and try to become a Diesel Locomotive driver.”
There’s little doubt that passengers will see her behind the controls of a diesel train in the not-too-distant future.
The traditional New Year Diesel Trains are running on Saturday, 7th January 2017. A heritage diesel locomotive from the Irish Traction Group will be hauling the trains, as our steam locomotive will be out of service for its annual inspection and servicing.
Trains will be running to and from Inch Abbey on our North Line. This is your last chance to visit us until St Patrick’s Day, because this is the time of year when we do maintenance on our trains and tracks.
Online ticket sales are now closed. Buy your tickets when you arrive at the station.
See our Timetable & Fares webpage for further information.
South Down MP Margaret Ritchie and MLA Colin McGrath called down to the Downpatrick & County Down Railway for the last day of the Lapland Express, meeting volunteers as well as the jolly big man himself – Santa Claus.
As well as welcoming this festive VIP to the town, Margaret Ritchie and Colin McGrath saw for themselves the work to rehabilitate the DCDR’s ‘South Line’, which runs out to the Loop Platform.
This line was originally laid in the 1980s using second-hand wooden sleepers and in the last year has been completely renewed with concrete ones, extending the life of this part of the line as well as making a smoother ride for passengers.
Railway chairman, Robert Gardiner, who showed the guests around, said “We were delighted to welcome Margaret and Colin down to the DCDR and seeing the crowds travelling on the Lapland Express to see Santa.”
He continues, “They also took a great interest in seeing the improvements and works that we’ve been undertaking, and hearing about our plans for the future.”
Mr Gardiner adds, “The Lapland Express is one of our most popular events, and this year we’ve moved to online prebooking for the first time in our history.”
This has been a record year for the DCDR, with over 3,500 passengers pre-booking and travelling.
“This move has been a tremendous success and has made the whole event much more welcoming for our passengers,” said Mr Gardiner, “It’s eliminated the long queues at the ticket office, allowing people a more leisurely visit with more time to explore the station and museum.”
The elected representatives also got the chance to talk to volunteers and members of the public on what is one of the most popular events in the railway’s calendar, as well as getting up close to the locomotive itself, a 1935 vintage engine that used to haul sugar beet wagons in factories in the Republic of Ireland.
Mr Gardiner reveals that one of the guests must’ve said something to Santa Claus, and got an early Christmas present, “The locomotive crew offered Colin McGrath a complementary Footplate Pass back from Santa’s Workshop to Downpatrick Station, an offer he readily accepted!”
That’s all folks… we have no seats available for booking now. We’re sorry if anyone missed out on their visit to Santa, but we hope you understand we have an upper limit on how many people we can bring to this event.
If anyone has any queries about a current booking, then please contact us for help.
Our next public trains are the diesel-hauled Mince Pie trains on 7th January, then we close for the winter for maintenance, until St Patrick’s Day.
The Lapland Express is very, very nearly sold out with just a few seats remaining for Saturday 10th December. Book those tickets now!
Once the tickets are all sold, we’re very sorry to say that there’s no more seats available on any of our trains. If you’ve missed out, please accept our apologies, but we can only take so many people through Santa in the given time.
Our next trains are the diesel-hauled mince pie/New Year specials on Saturday 7th January 2017.
More Lapland Express trains have been added, so if you want to travel over the next three weekends, then you need to book soon. Visit our online ticket office now!
SANTA’S SELLING OUT!
Tickets are fast selling out for the Downpatrick & County Down Railway’s Lapland Express, which is arriving this weekend at the Downpatrick and County Down Railway for four weekends only with a very special passenger – Santa Claus!
Some days are now fully booked and, like writing your letter to Santa, don’t leave it too late to book.
This is the first year we’ve offered people the chance to pre-book their tickets, but unlike previous years, there are unlikely to be tickets available at the last minute so we urge people to log on and get them booked before they’re gone. As the big day approaches, tickets are selling ever faster and at this rate, we will probably sell out the last few weekends before the end of the week.
But Santa doesn’t want any disappointed young visitors, so he’s offering visitors a special **10% discount** for the first weekend (26th & 27th November).
The steam train will be leaving the railway station for the following weekends, 26th & 27th Nov, 3rd & 4th, 10th & 11th, 17th & 18th December, with trains running strictly at 40 minute intervals from 1.30pm. Santa will also be providing his guests refreshments on the buffet coach.
Tickets are selling quickly already online – and cost £8.50 for adults, £10 (including present) children. This includes a present from Santa, as well as the train fare.
Admission to see Santa in his workshop is also dependent on children having been good throughout the year.
Tickets are now available to buy online for the Lapland Express, which is arriving this Christmas at the Downpatrick and County Down Railway for four weekends only with a very special passenger – Santa Claus!
Railway chairman, Robert Gardiner revealed Santa’s itinerary, “He’ll have travelled in style on board his own steam train – the Lapland Express – to greet scores of children.”
Mr Gardiner also says that, although the details of his trip are tightly guarded secrets looked after by the Elf & Safety Executive, it is his understanding that kids eager to meet the jolly big man in the red outfit will be invited everyone to join Santa Claus for some festive fun on the Christmas train.
He adds, “Once the Steam Train has arrived at the Loop Platform, Santa will invite everyone to join him over in his travelling workshop – the carriage where he makes all the toys for all the little boys and girls. Here, they will get to speak one-to-one with Santa and tell him what they wanted for Christmas.”
The steam train will be leaving the railway station for the following weekends, 26th & 27th Nov, 3rd & 4th, 10th & 11th, 17th & 18th December. Santa will also be providing his guests refreshments on the buffet coach.
Tickets are selling quickly already online – and cost £8.50 for adults, £10 (including present) children. This includes a present from Santa, as well as the train fare. Log on to our website to choose your train and purchase your ticket – but you better get on your snow shoes as they are selling out quickly!
Admission to see Santa in his workshop is also dependant on children having been good throughout the year.
Mr Gardiner also advises to come well wrapped up, “Don’t forget, this is an outdoor event so both parents and children should wear appropriate warm clothing.”
And after Christmas Day is over, you can steam into the New Year with the railway’s popular Mince Pie Specials on Saturday, 7th January.
“The Downpatrick & County Down Railway is your guaranteed sanctuary from turkey sandwiches,” jokes Mr. Gardiner.
“Mince or apple pies are available from our buffet car on New Year’s Day, after relaxing on board a heritage train coasting through the County Down countryside,” he says, “as a well as a wee glass of something to refresh you.”
There’s something strange happening at the Downpatrick & County Down Railway this Halloween. There’s ghosts on the platforms and ghouls on the train, it can only be the return of the Phantom Flyer for the railway’s Halloween Ghost Trains!
“Anyone who visits on Halloween weekend is in for a double treat,” says Railway spooksperson, Robert Gardiner.
He explains, “As well as travelling on a ghostly steam train, children who dare to alight at the Forbidden Platform, as well as any brave grown-ups, will be granted an audience with the Great Wizard in his own haunted Grotto train.
“If those who dare to enter Merlin’s domain pass his tests, then the children will receive a mystical gift.”
Mr. Gardiner adds, “And of course, why not try to turn the tables and scare Merlin by coming in ghostly fancy dress yourself?”
To add a really scary touch visitors could turn evil with some ghoulish facepainting as well.
So are you brave enough to visit a Viking Graveyard on Halloween night? The train will be stopping at the grave of King Magnus Barefoot on its travels and be warned as ghoulish things rise out of the ground before your eyes!
The Phantom Flyer will be dearly departing on Halloween weekend – Saturday 29th, Sunday 30th and Monday 31st October at the Witching Hour from 4pm-7pm for all Three Knights (or nights). Refreshments will be served onboard a buffet carriage at the Loop Platform, and car parking is free.
On Halloween Night there will also be a fireworks display after the last train in Downpatrick Town Centre just down from the station.
Tickets are available on the day at Downpatrick Station only and cost £8.50 for Ghoulish Grownups and Little Monsters (children aged 4-15), £5.50 for Tiny Terrors (children aged 0-3) and Spooky Seniors (childrens’ ticket includes visit to Merlin, swag bag as well as train fare), .
Mr. Gardiner also reminds people about autumn weather, “Don’t forget that this is an outdoor event, so please remember to wrap up well.”
And also keep an eye out for Santa’s visit to the railway this December – tickets are available online now.
Tickets for our annual Santa trains, The Lapland Express, are now on sale.
For full details, see our special Lapland Express webpage.