Southern Railway Corp. yesterday reported that its second-quarter profits fell just short of last year's record earnings for the quarter and the first half of the year was the best the Washington-based railroad has ever had.

The Burlington Northern and Union Pacific railroads said their second-quarter earnings were off, but Santa Fe Industries Inc. posted a 9.5 percent gain in quarterly profits.

The Southern's net for the quarter fell to $49.3 million ($3.16 a share) from last year's $50.7 million ($3.31) despite a 12 percent increase in revenues to $411 million from $336 million. First-half net increased to $100.5 million ($6.45) from $86.6 million ($5.64).

Southern Chairman L. Stanley Crane said higher freight rates produced most of the second-quarter revenue gain and helped overcome a 70 percent increase in fuel costs and a slight fall-off in the amount of freight carried.

Santa Fe Industries Chairman John S. Reed said a "dramatic improvement" in the corporation's oil business offset drops in railroad and lumbering profits and produced a 9 1/2 percent gain in quarterly earnings.

Union Pacific's profits for the quarter fell to $79.2 million (82 cents a share) on revenues of $1.1 billion from $987 million. For the half, UP earned $181.2 million ($1.89) compared with $196.3 million ($1.18).

Burlington Northern reported a 39 percent plunge in quarterly earnings, but the company's board voted to increase the quarter dividend on common stock to 31 1/4 cents a share from 26 1/4 cents. The railroad earned $41.6 million ($1.47 a share), down from $68.3 million ($2.63), despite a 13 percent increase in revenues to $919 million.