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Tesla's Musk Among Believers In Tube Travel Trips From SF To LA

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS Interactive) - High-tech entrepreneur Elon Musk is known for his Tesla electric cars and space rockets, but on Monday, Musk will announce a new plan to redefine long-distance travel.

CBS News recently met an inventor who's already exploring the technology called "hyperlooping."

The mock-up of a speeding capsule is ugly and ungainly, made of Styrofoam and duct tape, and yet, it may be a look into the future.

It will take several billion dollars to build a system for sending a capsule down a vacuum tube with the air sucked out just like outer space to eliminate friction. The journey begins when the capsule moves through an airlock.

Colorado inventor Daryl Oster calls his idea the Evacuated Tube Transport Technology and thinks it is an irresistible way to get the 400 miles from Los Angeles to San Francisco in barely enough time to eat a tuna salad sandwich, forget the dessert. Oster says the system is faster than jets and would make the trip in half-an-hour.

Sitting in the capsule, Oster says passengers would feel as if they're in a Corvette with the throttle pushed down all the way. But the feeling wouldn't last long, he says, just "for 20 seconds to get up to 350 to 400 miles per hour."

If Oster sounds like a lonely inventor with not much more than a good idea, consider Elon Musk, who made his billions creating Tesla electric cars, online payment system PayPal, and SpaceX, one of the world's first private rockets for launching satellites.

Musk is a big fan of moving people without cars, motivated by his own California commute. Musk said, "You just see a carpet of cars that aren't moving, and it's just like, 'Wow, how much misery is that causing' and surely there's something we can do about it."

Now Musk plans to father and maybe even help pay for something he calls the hyperloop. Like Oster's plan, Musk would use magnetic levitation like Japan's experimental bullet train, combined with a vacuum tube system long used by banks.

The catch is, another set of California dreamers have already come up with a high-speed rail system with speeds of 220 miles per hour to make the Los Angeles to San Francisco run in three hours. But it's a big dream with a very big price tag -- about $60 billion.

Dan Richards, of the California High-Speed Rail Authority, told CBS News, "To meet the needs of the 50 million people that we're gonna have in the next 20 or 30 years, we have to build more freeways, more airports and do more things that are gonna cost a lot more than the high-speed rail system is going to cost."

Oster's system costs one-tenth of that and it seems he's thought of everything. Asked how to get kids to the bathroom on the system, Oster replied, "Push the button that you want to exit at the next available exit and, at most, they'll be 15 minutes apart."

After that, the system could be extended across the country, and then the world. Oster said a trip from New York to Beijing would be just two hours.

(Copyright 2013 by CBS San Francisco and CBS Interactive. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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