The first rail line in the state—the Tuscumbia Railroad, chartered in 1830—made its first run, 44 mi (71 km) around the Muscle Shoals from Tuscumbia to Decatur, on 15 December 1834. By 1852, however, Alabama had only 165 mi (266 km) of track, less than most other southern states. Further development awaited the end of the Civil War. Birmingham, as planned by John T. Milner, chief engineer of the South and North Railroad, was founded in 1871 as a railroad intersection in the midst of Alabama's booming mining country; it subsequently became the state's main rail center, followed by Mobile. As of the end of 2000, Alabama had 3,687 total rail mi (5,933 km) of track. There were five class I railroads operating in the state, accounting for 3,149 rail mi (5,067 km). Coal is the major commodity sent by rail—29% of all rail tonnage originating from and 49% of all rail tonnage terminating within the state was coal in 1998. An Amtrak passenger rail connected Birmingham, Anniston, and Tuscaloosa with Washington and New Orleans. Other passenger service included a route connecting Montgomery and Mobile with Birmingham and New Orleans.

In settlement days the principal roads into Alabama were the Federal Road, formerly a Creek horse path, from Georgia and South Carolina; and the Natchez Trace, bought by the federal government (1801) from the Choctaw and Chickasaw, leading from Kentucky and Tennessee. Throughout most of the 19th century, road building was in the hands of private companies. Only after the establishment of a state highway department in 1911 and the securing of federal aid for rural road building in 1916 did Alabama begin to develop modern road systems.

As of 2000 there were 94,311 mi (151,778 km) of public streets, roads, and highways. In the same year, the state had 1,961,806 registered automobiles, 1,989,567 trucks, and 8,766 buses. There were 3,521,444 licensed drivers in 2000. Most of the major interstate highways in Alabama intersect at Birmingham: I-65, running from the north to Montgomery and Mobile; and I-59 from the northeast and I-20 from the east, which, after merging at Birmingham, run southwestward to Tuscaloosa and into Mississippi. Route I-85 connects Montgomery with Atlanta; and I-10 connects Mobile with New Orleans and Tallahassee, Florida.

The coming of the steamboat to Alabama waters, beginning in 1818, stimulated settlement in the Black Belt; however, the high price of shipping cotton by water contributed to the eventual displacement of the steamboat by the railroad. Thanks to the Tennessee Valley Authority, the Tennessee River has been transformed since the 1930s into a year-round navigable waterway, with three locks and dams in Alabama. The 234-mi (377-km), $2-billion Tennessee-Tombigbee project, which opened in 1985, provided a new barge route, partly through Alabama, from the Midwest to the Gulf of Mexico, for which the US Army Corps of Engineers cut a 39-mi (63-km) canal and built 10 locks and dams. This was not only the largest civilian engineering project in the US during the early 1980s but also by far the largest earth-moving project in US history, displacing more earth than was moved to build the Panama Canal.

The Alabama-Coosa and Black Warrior-Tombigbee systems also have been made navigable by locks and dams: river barges carry bulk cargoes. There are 1,270 mi (2,043 km) of navigable inland water and 50 mi (80 km) of Gulf coast. The only deepwater port is Mobile, with a large ocean-going trade; total tonnage in 2000 was 54.2 million tons. The Alabama State Docks also operates a system of 10 inland docks; and there are several privately run inland docks.

In 2000, Alabama had 102 public-use airports, of which six were for commercial service with 2,500 or more passengers enplaned. Mobile, on the Gulf of Mexico, is Alabama's only international port. The largest and busiest facility is Birmingham International Airport.