VATICAN CITY -- Belching unholy pollution over the Vatican, the world's smallest national railway set off on Pope Francis' latest effort to open the church to the people.
It took less than half a minute for the 100-year-old locomotive to cross the border of Vatican City and join the Italian rail system.
The hour and a half trip was the inaugural run for what will be a weekly tourist excursion linking Vatican City with Castel Gandolfo, summer home of popes since the 17th century.
The route climbs through vineyards and past the remains of ancient Roman aqueducts.
The smoke-spewing steam engine used for the Press junket will be replaced by a diesel locomotive for the tourists.
The passenger cars date from the 1930s, and include one used by Pope John XXIII who was a regular at Castel Gandolfo.
But Francis decided the once-inaccessible secret summer retreat of popes should be open to the public. The frugal pope's preference for staying in the Vatican was hurting tourism -- the mainstay of the local economy.
The trappings of the pomp and glory of his predecessors on display in seven newly opened rooms of the part of the castle known as the Apostolic Palace include huge portraits, papal artifacts ranging from slippers dating back to the 16th century, ornate gilded carvings and robes so intricately embroidered they could be tapestries.
And in as far a cry as is possible to imagine from the style of Francis, mannequins sport uniforms of arcane members of the ancient papal households -- including a flunkey with the you-couldn't-make-it-up if-you-tried title of "The Cape-and-Sword Waiter."
With its soothing views over Lake Albano...it's easy to see why the popes came here. Add in a train like this, and you have to wonder why Francis doesn't at least come along for the ride.