I like the crayon rail games. I've played a lot of Iron Dragon, some EuroRails, and a smattering of others. I'd like to introduce acquaintances who aren't already experienced gamers to them (doing some boardgame evangelism here). But these games are rather longer than most gateway games. At an hour per player (on average, in my group) and not working very well with fewer than four players, these games don't fit neatly in a weeknight after-dinner gathering, even considering How to speed up a game of Empire Builder?. (The techniques there work better for experienced players, and they don't make the large difference I'm looking for.)
Is there either a faster member of this category of game or a tested set of rules variants that produces a satisfying game in the two-hour range for four or more players? I think a smaller map + a recalculated end-game trigger would do it; a smaller map means fewer options, more route contention, and quicker deliveries. But you still want the game to progress through all the stages (initial build, expansion, money engine), so I don't know if blocking off regions on an existing map (and doing something to be determined with affected route cards) can work.
What can I use for a shorter gateway to crayon rail games?