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Eddie & SEPTA: A Special Bond Built By A Transit Phenom

Eddie Broccolo knows SEPTA. And if you don't believe that, just ask him.

He's easy to find: Just look for the 10-year-old boy out at Frankford Avenue and Stanwood Street most mornings before school, keeping a close eye on the transit situation in his Northeast Philadelphia neighborhood.

He'll be decked out in SEPTA gear, chatting with operators as they make their rounds, and making sure - always with a smile - they and everyone else in earshot know whether schedules are being kept.

In-between arrivals and departures of nearby trackless trolleys and buses, he'll be keeping the transit talk going with his regular morning audience. And if you need to know where a certain SEPTA bus, train or trolley will take you, Eddie's happy to help.

"The Route 15 Trolley," Eddie responds, when someone asks about "that old-style trolley," with a vague reference to its service area. "It goes to 63rd and Girard."

Eddie's mother, Sandra Broccolo, who accompanies him on his morning routine, said Eddie's love of all-things transit goes back to his pre-elementary school days, when he and his grandmother regularly criss-crossed the city and beyond on SEPTA buses, trains and trolleys.

"The first time, he was actually scared," Sandra recalled. "But after that, he couldn't get enough of SEPTA. When he got older, he started using the computer to look up schedules and find out everything he possibly could about SEPTA, and even transportation systems in other cities."

Through his love of all-things-transit, a bond developed between Eddie and the people of SEPTA, particularly as his family began confronting a challenging situation.

Sandra said Eddie is diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome. According to the National Institutes of Health, Asperger's Syndrome is an autism spectrum disorder, but it differs from most other forms in that those who live with it can thrive with their development in terms of linguistic and cognitive skills.

However, many have difficulty communicating with others in social situations - and medical experts often cite this symptom as among the most challenging to overcome. But Sandra said Eddie is beating these odds, and she says the countless relationships he's built through SEPTA are a major reason why he's an outgoing, engaging boy.

"SEPTA has just been unbelievably great with him," said Sandra. "The drivers all take time to talk to him - and sometimes they'll bring him a hat or something with 'SEPTA' on it, they're just so generous. They've even given him gift certificates to the Transit Store."

That includes people like Robert Gallagher, the Maintenance Manager at the Fern Rock Shop. He and Eddie met through Kathleen Grant, Gallagher's niece and school crossing guard at Eddie's morning spot.

"She told me about Eddie and how he loved SEPTA," Gallagher said. "I said, I have to go out and meet this kid, and I'm glad I did. He's just a great kid."

Gallagher has helped arrange a number of SEPTA-related activities for Eddie. Among Eddie's favorites: behind-the-scenes tours of SEPTA operations facilities, and a session in the bus simulator.

"I just wanted to do something for him," Gallagher said one recent morning, before taking Eddie and his mother to SEPTA Headquarters for a tour of the Control Center. "I'm just glad I can do little things here and there."

Sandra, standing nearby, wouldn't let Gallagher get away with being modest.

"People like Bob Gallagher - he's getting Eddie behind-the-scenes, he's introducing him to people who do all these different things at SEPTA - it's just incredible," she said. "They've just been so wonderful to him."

Eddie agrees.

"I love SEPTA," he said. "Everything about SEPTA."

But he has to have a favorite, right?

"The trolleys," he replied, backing his answer up with technical details about how the vehicles run, comparisons of some of the different types of trolleys in SEPTA's fleet and a brief overview of the major service areas.

But then - maybe sensing he was talking over the collective heads of his adult audience - he summed it up in a more typical 10-year-old fashion: "The trolleys are really cool."

Eddie Broccolo, on a rare break from his morning duties at Frankford Avenue and Stanwood Street.

Eddie with some of his morning crew. From left: His mother, Sandra Broccolo, crossing guard Kathleen Grant and SEPTA's Robert Gallagher, Maintenance Manager at the Fern Rock Shop.

Eddie checks in with an operator on the Route 66 Trackless Trolley.

Eddie keeps his morning crowd up-to-date on all SEPTA-related information.