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Rebecca (20) now a flag-bearer for female guards on our vintage railways

By Adrian Rutherford

Published 10/01/2017

Rebecca Dougan is following in the footsteps of her father and uncle
Rebecca Dougan is following in the footsteps of her father and uncle

Meet the young Co Down woman who is making tracks on Northern Ireland's heritage railway network.

Rebecca Dougan (20) is the youngest guard on the local heritage railway, and is thought to be the first female guard on any heritage railway operation in Ireland.

She is involved with the Downpatrick & County Down Railway (DCDR). It was set up in 1985 with the aim of restoring a portion of the former Belfast and Co Down Railway as a working rail museum.

At the weekend it celebrated a milestone after Rebecca passed out as a shunter and a guard - the crew member responsible for operational and safety duties of the train.

In time her ambition is to become a diesel locomotive driver.

Rebecca, who works at Castle Espie, is the third member of her family to become a guard. She described how she had always taken an interest in the railways.

"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," she explained.

"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 shunter/guards. When I came into my early teen years I started to take an interest in their work as guards and so when I became old enough I was allowed to start training as a shunter/guard last year."

Although mainly responsible for operational and safety duties, Rebecca says there is more to it than just blowing a whistle and flying a flag at the driver. "You have to learn how to safely shunt a train first before learning the guard duties," she added.

"I stuck at it and it seemed to take a long time.

"But I never gave up and eventually, last Saturday, I did my passing out exam."

It entailed a written and practical test, which included Rebecca taking out a passenger service on her own.

Raymond was on the platform to see his daughter pass her exam.

He said: "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.

"To her great credit Rebecca has stuck to it, and that has made me so proud."

Railway chairman Robert Gardiner, himself a guard on the DCDR, said: "We're delighted to announce that Rebecca was finally passed out as a shunter and guard."

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