Scheduling in the Palm of your hand

Running for the train is not exactly an ideal way to end a long day. With that in mind, the people at Montreal-based VIA Rail Canada recently launched the VIA eSchedule, an application that provides electronic travel schedules for Palm OS handheld devices, laptops and desktop computers.

VIA, in partnership with Oakwood, Ga.-based Innovata-LLC, a travel infomediary, now offers travellers the ability to download all its train schedules from its Web site ( and access information without being connected to the Internet.

According to Mohamed Bhanji, VIA’s director of marketing technologies, the company wants to make travel easier for train users.

“Because of the evolution in technology, more people are using laptops and handheld devices,” he said. “We thought, ‘Let’s develop an application that would be relevant and useful.'”

The VIA eSchedule is designed for PDAs (Personal Digital Assistants) running the Palm OS operating system.

Memory space was a concern for Bhanji when designing the application.

“One of the things in Palm Pilots and handheld devices is that they have limited memory, posing a design challenge,” Bhanji said.

According to Bhanji, the eSchedule solution minimizes the memory space required through compression of direct schedules and automatically builds connections between trains for the specified city pair.

He noted VIA’s whole plan is towards mobile and wireless computing.

“In addition to providing information on the Internet where you have to be connected, especially for people on the road, we feel they would appreciate the added convenience of having schedules available at their fingertips.”

According to Bhanji, VIA partnered up with Innovata because of their renowned abilities of regulating schedule information.

Michael Galliera, assistant development manager for Onerail, a Toronto-based rail reservation-booking firm, travels by train usually four times per month between Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal. Galliera downloaded both the Windows and the Palm version of the eSchedule.

“I do a lot of business travelling through the train,” Galliera said. “The one nice thing (the eSchedule) allows you to do is check the train times and see when the next trains are departing and arriving.”

Galliera noted one nice feature of the eSchedule is its ability to transfer information directly to the datebook feature of the Palm devices.

“It allows you to keep a datebook in there which allows you to keep track of all your departures and arrivals,” he said.

Bhanji further explained that by using the datebook, riders can ensure they do not book any appointments during scheduled train times.

Galliera’s one concern with the eSchedule was notification of schedule changes.

“I know that they change their schedule a few times a year and I was concerned that I’d always have to keep checking the site for updated versions,” he said. “But they have a feature where they will e-mail you any updates to the schedule and you can download them right away, which is really nice.”

Bhanji expects eSchedules will become part of a growing trend in travel. With sales of handheld devices on the rise, Bhanji anticipates a large demand for this type of application in the future.

“In a sense, we are at the leading edge right now,” he said, but added, “it is still very early for us to judge the impact.

The VIA eSchedule is free and can be downloaded from their Web site.

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