"Not only will California be the first state in the nation to build a high-speed rail system to connect our urban centers, we will also modernize and improve rail systems at the local and regional level," Richard said Friday.
California was able to secure more federal aid than expected after Florida, Ohio and Wisconsin turned down money.
Before Friday's vote, at least half a dozen Democrats in the 40-member Senate remained opposed, skeptical or uncommitted. Some were concerned about how the vote would impact their political futures, while others were wary about financing and management of the massive project.
In recent days, Democratic leaders included more state funding to improve existing rail systems in an effort to entice support for the bullet train.
The bill authorizes the state to sell nearly half of a $10 billion high-speed rail bond that voters approved four years ago under Proposition 1A. In addition to financing the first segment of high-speed rail, it allocates a total of $1.9 billion in bonds for regional rail improvements in Northern and Southern California.
The upgrades include electrifying Caltrain, a San Jose-San Francisco commuter line, and improving Metrolink commuter lines in Southern California.
One dissenter, Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, said public support had waned for the project, and there were too many questions about financing to complete it.
"Is there additional commitment of federal funds? There is not. Is there additional commitment of private funding? There is not. Is there a dedicated funding source that we can look to in the coming years? There is not," Simitian said.
The Bay Area Council, a group of business leaders from the San Francisco Bay and Silicon Valley areas, cheered the vote.
The bill, which already passed the state Assembly, heads to Brown for his signature.