The accounts were given at the opening of an inquest into the death of Ian Jones, who was killed when he jumped off the train and into the path of another near Maidenhead station, in Berkshire.
It was later revealed that the fire was caused by a fuel tank dropping off the front engine and bursting into flames after two bolts had come loose.
The jury at Windsor Coroner's Court was told by the train's driver, Robert Durham, that he saw people jumping out of his train as it stopped. Mr Durham saw the other train coming and said: "I tried to wave [at it], but it was futile."
The smoke was worst in the front coaches occupied by first-class passengers. One of them, Elizabeth Toshack, said there was a "total fireball". "The outside skin of the train seemed to crack," she added.
She eventually jumped out of the door which was open on the track side of the train. "Anyone would have jumped," she said.
A stewardess, Gwendolyn Evans, said: "It was a choice of staying in the carriage and choking to death or getting out." She said she had been given a day's fire training but was not taught anything about procedures to evacuate trains.
Brian Williams, the driver of the train which hit Mr Jones, said he braked after seeing people on the tracks. He saw Mr Jones before he hit him and said: "He was standing there and tried to jump out of the way."
Philip Rees, the maintenance control engineer at Great Western Trains who examined the damage, said although the underneath of trains was checked every three or four days, the maintenance staff were not particularly required to check that the bolts were still in place.
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