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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.”

Newly passed out guard Rebecca poses by her trainHe 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

Rebecca Dougan being assessed during her guard's exam

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.