JOURNEY times by rail between Dublin and the main towns and cities will drop by up to 20 minutes early in the new year.
This is because Iarnrod Eireann is increasing the speed limit on sections of the network as part of efforts to get people out of their cars and on to public transport.
Services from Dublin to Cork, Galway, Waterford, Limerick, Westport and Kerry will benefit, with drops of up to 20 minutes on some trains.
The improvements will allow trains to travel at up to 160kmh – 40kmh faster than motorways.
Dublin to Cork, which currently takes between two hours 40 minutes and three hours five minutes, will fall to two hours 30 minutes to two hours 45 minutes – a maximum reduction of 20 minutes.
And 10 minutes will be taken from the Dublin-Waterford journey, which takes up to two hours 25 minutes, while the Dublin-Galway trip will drop by 15 minutes to a maximum of two hours thirty minutes.
The changes are possible because of a more targeted maintenance programme across the rail network.
Speed restrictions have been removed along sections of the line including Kildare, Portarlington and Limerick Junction, which were being upgraded until recent months.
The company said the works were funded out of existing maintenance budgets, and that further investment was planned.
"While rail journey times remain competitive, there is no doubt that the motorway investment has provided us with a competitive challenge," a spokesman said.
"Our trains are equipped to deliver 160kmh (100mph) speeds and above, so the key to journey-time improvement is the network. Further improvements would require investment, and we have already highlighted this as a key medium-term priority.
"It is hoped these changes will attract more people to services which will help make the case for further improvements."
A strategic report published earlier this year said if €250m was invested over the next five years, journey times could drop to just two hours on services to Galway, Limerick and Waterford, and two hours 30 minutes on the Cork route.
The investment would establish rail as a "strong option" for these trips, and bring a high level of consistency to journey times.
Iarnrod Eireann also said timetable changes were being finalised which will be put out for public consultation later this month.
The changes will be introduced early next year, if approved by the National Transport Authority.