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Yahoo Offers First Web Service on Amtrak

In its odyssey to reach different audiences, Yahoo has now clambered aboard trains.

The Web portal has teamed with Compaq Computer Corp. to offer the nation's first Internet access on select Amtrak trains.

“There's been so many more people traveling by rail recently, and they definitely have a business consumer who is really on the go and who can benefit from staying in touch via the Web wirelessly,” said Linda Bennett, New York-based brand marketing manager at Yahoo.

Three of the railroad's most popular train lines for business travelers will initially be Internet-enabled for three to six months.

One is the Acela Regional in the Northeast corridor, plying between Washington and Boston. The service will be available only between Washington and New York during rush hours.

Another is the Capitols service, including the Northern California cities of Sacramento, Oakland, San Francisco and San Jose. Again, the service is available for rush-hour commuters.

Finally, Amtrak's Hiawatha service between Chicago and Milwaukee will offer Web access all day long.

Amtrak would not say how many people ride the three lines daily. Overall, Amtrak ferries 60,000 customers each day. Despite its troubled finances, the railroad has grown its ridership in the past five years. It moved 23.5 million passengers in fiscal 2001.

Web-enabled Compaq iPaq Pocket PCs will be available in the café cars of the Northeast and Capitols trains. The Hiawatha service will boast that feature in its coach car. Surfing the wireless Web is free for travelers.

The iPaqs are tethered to the table or the seats, depending on the train the commuter is on.

“Basically you sit [at] a table or row seats with the iPaqs, you follow the directions that are posted and you click the Connect icon on the iPaq, and once you're connected you can surf the Web,” Bennett said.

Once connected, a five-second Compaq advertisement comes up. At the bottom of the screen is a link that connects to Yahoo's wireless site. Here, the user can choose from six Yahoo applications — mail, news, sports, weather, finance and movie times.

Users also can type in any other Web address in the URL bar at the top of the screen to visit other sites.

Staff from Yahoo will be on the trains to help commuters navigate the Web and answer questions about the iPaqs. Compaq, a Yahoo alliance partner, also benefits, Bennett said.

“Compaq gets hands-on exposure to business travelers and showcase their product in the real world,” she said.

Yahoo is no stranger to experimenting with different modes of transport. For six months in 1999, it offered Yahoo-branded Internet access in select San Francisco taxis. A similar program in New York cabs ran from September 2000 to December 2001.

A presence on commuter trains helps Yahoo reach a large captive audience.

Yahoo is making sure that riders are aware of the Web service. The train cars will be liveried in the online company's signature purple and yellow colors.

“It helps us get in front of more people in a unique environment,” Bennett said. “I think that's the take-away for us.

“We reach many people on the Web,” she said. “So really what we're trying to do with programs like this is to catch the people's imagination that the Web is not about the desktop, it's about traveling, it's about getting more out of life and the Web on your own terms.”

Separately, Yahoo launched a pay-per-view search service as part of its effort to decrease dependence on advertising for revenue.

Called Yahoo Premium Document Search, the service will try to monetize Yahoo's search and directory features.

Consumers will have to pay between $1 and $4 to pull files from a special database of 25 million research documents sourced from 7,100 publications and academic periodicals. A Premium Discount Search option of 50 documents a month will cost $4.95.

The search results on the Yahoo Premium Document Search are the same as those found on the paid search facility offered by Northern Light Technology. Acquired Jan. 22 by software maker Divine, Northern Light last year created a premium search engine for corporate clients of Yahoo.

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